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Cell phones eat into fast food, books, music

Wasim Tariq

Srinagar, October 19, 2007:

After a decade of reluctance, mobile phones were allowed in Indian administered Kashmir in 2003. Since then Kashmir has witnessed an unprecedented boom in the sector with three mobile operators holding around 1.6 million subscribers.

A fair section of these mobile users consist of youth, many of who pay for the usage charges from their pocket money.

With extensive usage of mobile phones by youth, fast food outlets and newspaper vendors says the phones are encroaching upon their businesses.

"Our business has hit a low," said owner of Rashid News Agency, Abdul Rashid.

Rashid is in the business for the past 37 years. "All this happened with the arrival of mobiles in the state. Our sales have ebbed," he said.

Vendors say that youth, particularly in the age group of 15 to 25, who used to spend their pocket money on fast foods, newspapers, magazines and music and videos are now exhausting all their money on mobile phones.

Rashid recalls the days when hordes of students used to throng his newspaper stall, just adjacent to the Tyndale Biscoe School in Lal Chowk Srinagar.

"Students mostly purchased magazines and newspapers in the evening. Though sometimes few weren’t able to resist the temptation and purchased them in the morning," an aged Rashid said. "They were very good students. I still remember them," he adds.

Rashid said before the arrival of mobile phones in Kashmir students loved to read comic books, sports, science and current affair magazines besides newspapers.

"These were their hot favourites," he said. "Everything has changed now. Hardly anybody comes here."

Hence Rashid stopped purchasing such stuff at once and as a result his sales fell.

"I could not continue as the supply was rotting. There were no buyers," he said frowning.

"I used to sell 60 comic books. Nobody purchases them now. I also used to sell 250 Sportstar magazines. Now I sell only 15."

Rashid says he has observed 85 per cent reduction in youth customers since the arrival of mobile phones.

"I am not alone. Vendors, hawkers all are suffering. The money, which would come to us is disappearing into thin air," he said.

"They (students) are ruining their lives with the excessive use of mobile phones. Their knowledge is receding," Rashid adds.

Echoing Rashid’s views, the small street dhabas and sweet shop owners faced the same music. They have observed substantial reduction in the customer inflow over the past few years.

"Our sales have gone down by more than 50 per cent," an employee at the famed Shakti Sweets shop in Lal Chowk area said.

"Earlier youth spent their savings in eatables. However, the arrival of cell phones has altered the tally to a considerable limit. The youths instead of spending on shops like ours, splurge in paying bills of mobile services," he added.

He said youth formed the majority of customers, who frequented their shop.

"That is why our business is suffering," the employee said.

The cell phone service was launched in valley on August 26, 2003. Touted as a symbol of normalcy the service was provided “with an aim to integrate Kashmir with the Indian Union”.

However, some experts opine that it will also help boost the State's economy with better connectivity.

The mobile services did little help in rebuilding the economy of the state, valley in particular. Contrary, it filled the kitty of people associated with the telecom profession and left the small business centres basking in open sun.

"The telecom sector is striking gold since cell phones were introduced in the state," owner of Kashmir International Telephone Booth, Mushtaq Ahmad Wani said.

Wani has been in the telecom business for the past eight years. His shop is located centrally near Ghanta Ghar (the clock tower) at Lal Chowk. The shop overlooks Valley's two famous missionary schools - Tyndale Biscoe and Mallinson besides other learning institutions nearby.

"The students ranging from high school to undergraduates form the majority of customers," Wani said. "These little customers constitute 40 per cent of my business. If university student are included then it is purely 50 per cent of my business," he added.

He said 50 per cent of his sales each day comprise of youth between the age group of 14 to 23.

Wani, whose business earlier was restricted to telephone booth only, started selling mobile service after the success of technology.

"Prior, the telecom sector was not such a business, it picked up after the mobile service arrived on the scene," Wani said.

He said that his sales have increased by 70 per cent after the introduction of cell phone service in the Valley.

However, in usage, males have overtaken their female counterparts. Wani said youth customers using mobiles comprise of 70 per cent and girls often use the telephone booth facility.

"The students use recharge cards up to Rs 200. They also use top up facility of Rs 100," Wani said.

Wani provides services of all the three cell phone service companies – BSNL, Airtel and Aircel – operating in the valley.

Owing to the hefty gains, there has been a mushroom growth of mobile services in the valley, especially in Srinagar.

Meanwhile, according to economic pundits here, there has been little impact of the money on the market that goes into the mobile service sector.

Economist and Dean Head Social Sciences, University of Kashmir, Nisar Ali said, "I agree that mobile services had partially affected the youth related market."

"The youths are sacrificing items including luxurious ones to telecom sector. Thus affecting the market materially," he adds.

However, Ali is quick on to add that compared to the past, currently youths have enough money to afford cell phones.

After the arrival of mobile service in Kashmir, mobile sets estimated at around Rs 480 crore were sold.

It is believed that the mobile business has grown ten fold.

Buoyed with the adolescence market, the main three cell phone service providers are competing in providing different schemes to lure the customers. The schemes range from slashing call rates to free of cost calls, provided if the customers are using the services of the same service companies.

"This is done to capture the market segment. The major chunk of market youth constitutes 60 per cent of customers," said Ali, who has also been an economic advisor to the government of Indian administered Kashmir.

"Besides youth getting attracted and tempted by the schemes, they also hold influence on parents to utilise the technology at maximum," he added.

Now after the sprawling market avenues in Kashmir, the other private telecom companies too have decided to move in to have their share of pie.

According to Ali the mobile service is currently holding Rs 80 crore market.

"Still the market is in its infancy. The service has captured only 20 per cent of the market. Hence there is a lot of scope for other companies in this virgin market," he said. (Kashmir Newz)



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