Images Monitoring Desk

As 4G ban in J&K nears year, signs appear of official rethink on Internet blockade

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Srinagar, July 26: Lieutenant Governor G.C. Murmu has reportedly told the Union Home Ministry that Jammu and Kashmir administration has no objection to restoring 4G Internet services in the union territory.

In an exclusive interview to ‘The Sunday Express’, the LG says that his government has told the Union Home Ministry that it has no objection to restoring 4G Internet services in the region.

It has been nearly a year since Internet services were first withdrawn from Jammu and Kashmir, just before the reading down of Article 370 in August, 2019. While 2G Internet has been restored, the slow speed has posed a particular challenge for healthcare professionals in the time of the COVID-19 crisis, students, business-people, media and others.

Murmu told the newspaper that he is “not afraid how people will see” his support to the restoration.

“We have been making [a] representation for this…I feel that 4G will not be a problem. I am not afraid how people will use this. Pakistan will do its propaganda, whether it is 2G or 4G. It will always be there… But I don’t see an issue,” he was quoted as having said.

This is a marked change in position. The J&K government has earlier said that restoration of high speed Internet could, among other things, lead to the spread of “fake news and targeted messages”, “propagate terrorism,” lead people to “indulge in rumour-mongering, support fallacious proxy wars, spread propaganda,” and cause “disaffection and discontent.”

Pertinently, on May 11, the Supreme Court rejected a petition seeking the restoration of 4G Internet services in J&K and handed over the judicial task of deciding upon the constitutional validity of the Internet suspension to a “special committee” – composed of members of the executive. It will be headed by the Home Ministry’s secretary, the Supreme Court ordered.

In an analysis of the move, ‘The Wire’ had pointed to the apex court’s cryptic acknowledgement that its own orders in Anuradha Bhasin vs Union of India over safeguards to ensure before cutting off high-speed Internet had been violated.

Since the constitution of a special committee, to review the high-speed Internet ban, four orders have been issued by the government under the Telecom Suspension Rules 2017 to extend Internet restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir.

The most recent of these orders was issued on July 08, 2020, and it directs slowdown of mobile Internet speed in Jammu and Kashmir to 2G till July 29.

Read in the context of an ongoing contempt matter in the Supreme Court — where the Forum for Media Professionals has accused the Centre of disregarding a direction for a special committee to take a reasoned decision on the 4G ban — Murmu’s revelation suggests there is more than meets the eye in the Attorney General for India, K.K. Venugopal’s claim that the court order has been complied with, ‘The Wire’ reported Sunday.

One of the committee’s members is the J&K Chief Secretary. There is notably, no official information available in the public domain about the special committee, and its constitution, as directed by the Supreme Court.

Murmu’s statement that “we have been making (a) representation” for the restoration of 4G opens up the possibility that the committee’s deliberations and decisions — if indeed they have happened, as the Centre claims— may not have been unanimous, which is why the Attorney General, insisted on sharing the minutes with the bench in a sealed cover, ‘The Wire’ report points out.

It says this “lack of unanimity” has lent itself to the ranks of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party as well.

In May, party national general secretary Ram Madhav wrote in a column on ‘The Indian Express’ that, “Certain harsh measures like denial of 4G services, which were necessary under special circumstances, can now be done away with, as the state administration and security apparatus are capable of handling difficult situations.”

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