96 days on, Jammu’s online ventures worst sufferers of Internet restrictions

Harry Walia. Updated: 11/8/2019 11:21:20 AM Front Page

JAMMU: The ongoing restrictions on internet in the region, particularly suspension of mobile internet, have affected almost every individual, business and service in a certain way.
With internet restrictions entering 96th day on Thursday, IT sector has found itself staring at grim future. Efleet-- a popular ride-hailing mobile application in Jammu, and 25 Technoarts—major providers of services like digital marketing, web development, and app development, are only two of the many online ventures in Jammu, which feel paralyzed.
Somewhat similar to Ola, Uber, or Jugnoo as many would say, in view of its services, that is, hailing an auto rickshaw or taxi just by tapping on your smartphone, Efleet was introduced in July, initially launched for auto rickshaws, by a software development and outsourcing company based in Jammu.
It leveraged on the existing vehicles rather than creating a new fleet.
The app, with over 40 auto rickshaw drivers registered with it, had just started to make a place for itself amongst locals, when the region was ripped off internet facility – a prerequisite to access the app, ahead of August 5 decisions of the Central Government to scrap Article 370 and reorganize the J&K state into two Union Territories.
“Our vehicle-on-call services are entirely dependent on internet. Its been three months since August 5, and it has become difficult to run business,” says Prikshit Gupta, who heads the Efleet app team.
He adds that their revenue generation through online advertisements has also come to a standstill amidst the internet clampdown.
Akanksha of Gandhi Nagar, who started using the app in late July, comments, “Taking an auto had become easy and cheaper for me, especially after a tired working day. I was recommending it to all of friends and relatives. However, since August 5, neither do I have the internet access throughout the day, nor do the auto rickshaw drivers.”
Moreover, the auto drivers, who had fought their reluctance towards adopting technology to come on roll for Efleet, were trained to use and understand the app, which eventually started getting them more work and gained them people’s respect. They are now ruing internet restrictions which has forced to them to suffer.
Talking about the challenges they have to have, Prikshit mentions, “We have to locate the customer who has called for an auto, find the nearest driver, explain the route to him, calculate the fare, and so on – all manually.
Further, they are not registering new auto-rickshaws, besides limiting the number of operating already registered drivers, as it would be difficult to track them, guide them and provide them work continuously.
Still trying to survive, Efleet has got a tollfree number which is being used by customers to hail an auto.
“We are sending text messages to our customers on daily basis. Also, we are offering discounts for instance, free rides on a festival, or the recent one - Rs 30 off,” remarks Prikshit, who had planned to bring ambulances, trucks, load carriers, e-rickshaws on board, besides autos and taxis.
Feeling helpless that all the hard work they had put in, is getting washed away, they say that they have no option but to wait for government to restore internet.
For Divyavasu Sharma, a young entrepreneur who runs an IT company in Jammu that provides digital solutions to other business and startup units, things are no different.
His company, 25 Technoarts, is famous for launching ‘Dogri Stickers’ mobile application, besides providing services like digital marketing, web development, and app development.
“Our work is entirely dependent on uninterrupted and good internet connectivity. But the internet restrictions imposed in Jammu since August 5 affect our work, clients and audience, limiting it to a mere fraction than we usually have on days sans internet restrictions,” says Divyavasu.
Sitting in his office in Bahu Plaza, Divyavasu has a worried look on his face. He is becoming increasingly despondent about the internet restrictions.
For the last few months, his team was working to revive Dogri language through Dogri Stickers app for WhatsApp. Furthermore, he had planned to develop an app that would convert Hindi/English text into Takri, the original script for Dogri. It was all well, until the internet clampdown.
“We were expecting good business this year, especially with the popularity of Dogri Stickers. Last time I checked, it had over thirty thousand downloads. But all is lost now. App downloads have come to a halt amongst Jammu audience, as people don’t have internet access. We have been pushed atleast 2 years back,” he tells.
He has lost clients – from other states and countries, because they wouldn’t waste their money and time waiting for his internet to be restored. “It is a straightaway loss of nearly Rs 3 lakhs. Other losses, if taken into account, will go up to 5 lakhs or more,” he states.
From Sarwal, he has shifted his office to Bahu Plaza, to mitigate the losses and get access to Jio Fiber, which has a finite coverage area in Jammu since its launching. “It is a respite from pathetic BSNL broadband,” he remarks.
There are some local students, who had collaborated with him for their online startups. With their personal funding of few lakhs put into their ventures having no guarantee of taking off in near future, the students are facing tough times.
Their hopes of becoming entrepreneur are shattered. Their dreams of earning livelihood are broken.
Diyvavasu comments, “We haven’t been able to pursue product testing, or product implementation in these three months. Our workflow is ruined now. Even if internet is restored, it will take time for us to regain that flow.”
He adds, “With Modi government’s emphasis on Make in India, Digital India, and StartUp India, people of Jammu had also started exploring online ventures in great number. However, the frequent calls to shut internet services and for this long duration, makes it difficult for us.”
The internet connectivity in Jammu will probably be uncertain for years to come. As such, he is working on an app, which can be accessed even without the internet access.
He says, “The offline app will provide essential services, a search engine for the people of Jammu. The idea is still in the incubation.”

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