State-owned telecom operators BSNL and MTNL will extend validity period of their prepaid mobile services till April 20 and offer Rs 10 additional talktime even after zero balance, to enable users, especially poor and underprivileged, to stay connected during the 21-day nationwide lockdown.
"This will enable poor people make calls for help even if they don't have any balance left," Communications Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said in a tweet.
The minister also took stock of performance of essential services under the Department of Telecom (DoT) and Department of Post, with heads of circles from all states through a video-conference on Monday.
"During the video conference, took feedback on functioning of their essential services during #21daysLockdown from heads of circles of BSNL and India Post. Exhorted them to rise to the occasion and set new benchmarks in public service as #IndiaFightsCorona," the minister tweeted.
In a statement, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) said it will offer free validity extension for prepaid mobile subscribers who were unable to recharge after their validity expired during the lockdown period, and also provide free talktime worth Rs 10 to those with zero balance during this phase.
BSNL said these facilities have been provided to facilitate communication by its mobile subscribers in emergency.
"In view of hardships faced by the mobile subscribers whose validity has expired during the lockdown period from 22nd March 2020 and are not able to recharge for extension of validity, BSNL, as a support to its esteemed mobile subscribers is extending the validity of all such subscribers up to 20th April 2020, free of cost, so that the subscribers continue to receive incoming calls," BSNL said in a statement.
In addition to this, BSNL is also giving free talk time of Rs 10 to all such subscribers who reach zero balance during the lockdown period, the statement added.
BSNL Chairman and Managing Director Praveen Kumar Purwar said, "BSNL firmly stands with its subscribers during this crisis period and we request the subscribers to 'Go Digital' for recharging their accounts. Several options available for recharge include MyBSNL mobile app, BSNL website and other popular wallet services."
Sector regulator Trai on Sunday had asked telecom operators to extend prepaid validity period to ensure that subscribers get uninterrupted services during the 21-day nationwide lockdown.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has also sought details of the steps taken to ensure availability of uninterrupted telecom services to such customers on a "priority basis".
"...you are required to take necessary steps as deemed fit including extending the validity period to ensure that all prepaid subscribers can enjoy uninterrupted services during the period of lockdown," Trai had said in a communication to all operators on Sunday.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24 had announced a complete lockdown of the entire country for 21 days in an unprecedented move to try halt the spread of coronavirus, shortly after which the Centre said road, rail and air services will remain suspended during this period.
As on early Monday, the pandemic had claimed 29 lives in the country and number of COVID-19 cases has touched 1071 in India.