IT start-ups wary of resuming operations in Kashmir, but some green shoots offer hope
Srinagar: Valley-based Information Technology (IT) companies are grappling to get back on their feet with the ghost of past internet gags looming large over their start-ups.
Stakeholders are wary of restarting their ventures as they suffered ‘90 percent’ business losses post abrogation of Article 370 on August 5 last year.
“In 2017-18, we had around 120 IT units that included software training and other IT related companies in Jammu and Kashmir. A major chunk of these companies was from Kashmir and there was an annual turnover of Rs. 300 cr. Around 30,000 people were involved, but hardly 10 percent of these units are working now. Most of them have closed down their offices. There has been 90 percent business loss and 90 percent job loss,” Information Communications Technology Association of J&K (ICTA) ex-president Mehraj Gulzar told The Kashmir Monitor.
Even as broadband service is working now, Gulzar said the owners of the IT companies were not willing to take the risk of investing in the sector again.
“Most of us are sitting idle and at the same time, we are wary….if the internet is working well today, we don’t know what is going to happen after two days. When there is no reliability, how can we take a project and give commitment? The IT sector has been evaporated because of frequent internet snaps especially from August 5, 2019. Our backbone is the internet. If there is no reliable internet, how can we survive?” he said.
After around 70 long days of suspension of services post abrogation of Article 370, postpaid mobile phones finally rang on October 14 last year. Limited access 2G service was restored only from January 25 this year but the ban on social media was lifted from March 4. Though broadband fixed-line service is available, fast-speed 4G mobile service is yet to be restored barring Ganderbal district.
While most of the IT start-up owners are reluctant to restart their ventures, Malik Fazal Ahmad, who had launched the Epic Staffing Solutions in March 2019, said staying afloat was a challenge.
“We do IT recruitments for the US and we launched the company in March last year. We were a team of around 40 but then in August, everything came to a standstill and we lost all work. When phones started ringing after over two months, US-based clients told us that we were contacting you but due to no response, we terminated the contracts. They even said we are no-longer going to work with you and you are not trustworthy,” said Fazal.
However, he said few clients understood the situation here and he had now chosen to restart his venture.
“Two-three clients told us they were aware of the Kashmir situation and now we are re-building. Despite the lockdowns, we had to pay rent and electricity, and staying afloat is not an easy task. However, in case there is another snap, then I will have to move out to Delhi or some other place or shut this venture. If net stops, our clients run away,” said Fazal, whose unit is located at Rangreth in the city outskirts.