Facility versus Security


University of Pune, which had initiated online admission process for its various courses two years ago, had to postpone the last date of application last week. The step was taken so that many students who could not file their applications in time could get a chance to do so. The reason why a large number of students could not complete their procedure was a very trivial one : the cyber cafes in the city were all closed. The owners of the cyber cafes are on the strike because police department has placed new and severe restrictions on them.

Following the bomb blast in Ahmedabad, police investigation led to a threat email sent from a wi-fi network of a US citizen in Navi Mumbai. The origin of a couple of similar mails was traced to cyber cafes in other cities. This has led to new rules being made for the cyber cafes supposed to be followed by all and sundry. Many rules of similar nature are in place for long, but they are implemented rarely. It is only after such an incident takes place that Home department wakes up.

Cyber cafes started in India about 13 years ago. Minimum investment and assured clientèle ensured that the number of cafes grew exponentially. It is estimated that there are 1500 cyber cafes in Pune alone. Their daily collection is in the tune of Rs. 30 Lakhs. These are proved a great help to the students who have come from other cities. As they have no own home, they are not given an Internet connection. Hence a lot of students resort to cyber cafes for various purposes ranging from posting resumes to sending job applications.

All this has come to standstill. Pune Central Cyber Cafe Association (PCCCA) president Rahul Pokle said the cafe owners have been asked to submit property tax payment receipts, no-objection certificate (NOC) from health department of the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) and a PMC-approved premises map. He added that initially the health department had refused to issue NOCs.

Explaining the problem with obtaining premises maps, Pokle said, “Out of the 1,200 cafes 300 are in old buildings, which were built before the PMC was formed. It is not possible for them to provide a map, approved by the PMC.” Whereas police maintain that the step might seem harsh but it is very necessary for the security. As per the police record, there are only 479 cyber cafes in the city out of which only one is registered. Ground reality is quite different.

Around seven years ago, when the parliament of India was attacked in New Delhi, cyber cafes were all over the country were asked to keep the records of the visitors. Cafes were supposed to keep registers of their clients. But nothing that sort of happens in the reality. I myself have used cafes for internet browsing for eight years now. But I have furnished a proof of my identity. The cafe owners are relunctant to go through the tedious process for a visitor who sits in their cafe maximum for two hours.

In the meantime, when I am writing this post, news has been splashed by all newspapers and television channels that Kenneth Haywood, from whose network the threat email was sent, has slipped out of India. Haywood was being investigated by Mumbai police and a lookout notice was issued for him. Still he was able to go to US from New Delhi. So it gives another morale of the story : cyber cafe open or not, the security is at risk always.

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