The special committee that was constituted to look into the issue of restoring 4G internet in Jammu and Kashmir has decided against resuming the services, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) informed the Supreme Court earlier this week.
The counter affidavit filed by Ministry of Home Affairs states that the committee on June 10, decided that ,“based on consideration and wide-ranging assessment of the prevalent situation in this sensitive region …no further relaxation on internet services including 4G services could be carried out at the present.”
It is further informed that the committee will meet again after two months to review the situation.
Refuting the allegation of Foundation for Media Professionals (FMP) that the internet restrictions were extended in J&K without constituting a special committee, the MHA says that the committee was constituted by the Supreme Court itself on May 11, 2020, when the Justice NV Ramana led bench had ordered that a special committee headed by Home Secretary, Government of India would be formed to review the internet restrictions in the valley.
The MHA’s affidavit was filed in response to the contempt plea by the Foundation for Media Professionals (FMP) over the non-constitution of a Special Committee to review the ban on 4G speed internet in Jammu and Kashmir.
The 6 page affidavit states that the committee had its first meeting on May 15, four days after the SC verdict and that “all aspects of the matter were elaborately discussed, including the prevailing security situation in Jammu and Kashmir and the impact of restrictions placed on 4G services in the region”.
The home ministry also said situation in the union territory will be reviewed by other competent authorities for the next two months. If there is improvement, appropriate action would accordingly be taken.
On July 16, the Justice Ramana led bench had sought the response of the Centre on the contempt plea even as Attorney General KK Venugopal insisted that there was no contempt. The petitioners had argued that knowledge of whether the government had constituted a special committee was not in the public domain.
On May 11, a bench headed by Justice NV Ramana, while deciding to order the immediate restoration of 4G service in the region had stated,
“… we are of the view that since the issues involved affect the state, and the nation, the Review Committee which consists of only State level officers, may not be in a position to satisfactorily address all the issues raised. We, therefore, find it appropriate to constitute a special committee which is separate from the Review Committee prescribed under the Temporary Telecom Suspension Rules 2017. “
Restrictions on internet services available in J&K were put in place from August 5, in the wake of the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution. After the Supreme Court verdict of May 11, the J&K administration had extended the internet curbs thrice – on May 27, June 17 and July 8 – citing the threat of cross-border terrorism.
The administration also claimed that 2G internet speed has not caused any impediment to COVID-19 management, online education or e-commerce.
Along with the contempt plea, the FMP has also filed an application for immediate restoration of 4G services in the region, stating that the denial of the same amid the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown has resulted in disrupting medical services, online education and e-commerce activities.
After the abrogation of Article 370 in January 2020, on the basis of Supreme Court order, the services were partially restored of 2G. Access was provided to only white listed sites and social media was completely blocked.
Finally,the Supreme Court had observed that the complete restriction on Internet is not permissible and restrictions on the must be according to the principles of proportionality under Article 19(2).