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Karnataka: Recharge shops shuttered, migrants cannot call home

Daily-wage earners, particularly migrant workers, are finding it hard to stay in touch with their families as mobile recharge shops, like most businesses, are shut following the coronavirus-linked lockdown.

Most workers are prepaid mobile users without access to online or app-based recharge wallets. Loss of work and income because of the nationwide lockdown has meant that they have little or no cash.

Several migrants, especially from Odisha, Bihar and West Bengal, who had been working in the construction sector, cannot return to their native place as restrictions on movement are in place to check the spread of coronavirus. In these circumstances, contacting their families back home has become even more urgent and important.

But even those who have some money are unable to as mobile recharge shops, which are not considered an essential service by authorities, are closed. Over 60% of the users in the country depend on offline recharge, according to one estimate.

“The government should allow mobile recharge outlets to remain open, provided social distancing is practised. It could also come up with recharge vans, which can visit areas where these workers stay,” said Vinay Srinivasa of Alternative Law Forum.

Srinivasa said workers were anxious about the situation back home and should have access to better connectivity. Many stay in areas like Kariyammana Agrahara, Thubarahalli, Peenya, Whitefield, Electronics City and along Outer Ring Road and Inner Ring Road.

Activist Ekta M said many workers had not been paid by contractors. “Some have left them stranded in the city. With no money and no access to recharge shops, workers give missed calls to connect with their family members,” she said.

According to a representative of the telecom industry, the numbers of new mobile users and those opting for recharge have reduced following viral outbreak. Operators like Vodafone Idea and Airtel have extended the validity of their SIM cards and some have tied up with banks to enable users to recharge through ATMs. Kerala plans allow mobile recharge centres and computer shops to function on Sundays, mainly to help migrant workers.

Rajan Mathews, directorgeneral of Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), said it would meet representatives from the department of telecommunications in a few days to chalk out a plan. “We understand there are some difficulties but most operators are now providing free incoming calls and messages. People can also recharge online or through kirana stores,” he said.

Meanwhile, with companies allowing the work-from home option and educational institutions focusing on online tutorials, shortage of computers has become a concern. Many people are facing problems as computer, mobile, UPS and inverter sale and repair shops in the city’s electronics hub SP Road are shut. They are urging officials to let the shops stay open once a week.

“I never expected I would be working from home for so long. My computer has some technical issue but all shops are closed. There is no servicing. I want a UPS for power backup there are no options to buy right now,” said Kiran Rao, a tech professional from Koramangala.

―Times of India

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