India's Department of Telecommunications (DOT) on Friday announced a number of restrictions on the use of SMS (short message service) in Jammu and Kashmir state, citing national security reasons.
The DOT has ordered mobile operators providing services in Jammu and Kashmir, not to deliver to mobile subscribers in the service area any SMS messages that originate outside the Jammu and Kashmir area, including from the networks of international long distance service providers.
Separatist Kashmiri Muslim groups are demanding independence for the part of Kashmir currently under Indian control. The other part of Kashmir is controlled by Pakistan.
The new order comes into effect from Friday at midnight, according to a statement by the DOT issued through the country's Press Information Bureau on Friday.
The new order also prohibits some categories of users from sending outgoing SMSs, and does away with the facility to send bulk SMSs by telemarketers and any other users of bulk SMS facility in Jammu and Kashmir.
Post-paid subscribers in the Jammu and Kashmir service area should not be allowed to originate SMSs altogether, while pre-paid customers will be restricted to 10 SMS messages a day, DOT said in its order.
Users of pre-paid phones pay for service ahead of using it, unlike in post-paid connections where they pay after usage for a certain period, usually a month.
The 12 service providers to whom the DOT directive was issued include the largest in the country, Bharti Airtel, as well as the government-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam, the statement said. Vodafone's Indian joint venture, Vodafone Essar, is also among the twelve instructed to restrict SMSs in the service area.
The use of mobile telephony by terrorists to plan attacks has been a major concern of security agencies in India. There has also been concern recently that SMS services are being used to spread wrong information and propaganda in Jammu and Kashmir, said an analyst, who requested not to be named.
The Indian government revoked in January a ban it imposed in October on the issue of new pre-paid mobile phone connections, and the renewal of existing pre-paid connections in Jammu and Kashmir, but only after introducing rules for stricter verification of users' identities.
The ban had come in for severe criticism from residents of Jammu and Kashmir.