Attorney General KK Venugopal on Tuesday informed the Supreme Court Bench hearing the contempt petition in the restoration of 4G internet in Jammu and Kashmir matter that the Special Committee was of the considered view that the situation in Jammu & Kashmir is still not conducive to restore internet Services of 4G in Jammu & Kashmir.
However, a phased restoration on a trial basis would take place 15th August onwards.
A Bench headed by Justice NV Ramana was hearing a petition seeking contempt action against Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs and Chief Secretary, U.T. of Jammu & Kashmir alleging non-compliance of the May 11 judgment of the Supreme Court, which had directed that a "Special Committee" be constituted to "immediately" to determine the necessity of continued restriction of mobile internet speeds in Jammu & Kashmir to 2G only.
Today, the AG submitted that the special committee held a meeting on August 10 and it has considered the situation prevalent in Jammu and Kashmir and concerns of security of the nation.
"The Special Committee had a meeting and has come to the conclusion that the threat perception in Jammu and Kashmir continues to be high. Committee was of the considered view that the situation is still not conducive to restore internet services of 4G."
The AG then went on to submit that a carefully calibrated view was taken by the Special Committee, who had arrived at the conclusion that they could restore internet activities on trial basis.
"The committee has also stated that High speed internet could be restored in certain areas with strict monitoring. The area should have low threshold of terrorist activities", submitted the AG.
AG submitted that one district in Jammu and one in Kashmir could get 4G internet on trial basis after August 15. Further, the Committee would overlook the restoration in certain areas over a period of 7 days, and there would be review of the situation after two months.
In light of the above submission, the AG contended that the averments of the Petitioners on the basis of the Anuradha Bhasin judgment was false as the reviews had been conducted periodically in tune with the law and there was no question of contempt.
Senior Advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, appearing on behalf of the Petitioner, submitted that, despite it being a step forward, there were certain concerns which remained.
"This is definitely a step forward. Certain concerns, however, remain. The aspects of non-compliance have been brought out by me. Issues with regard to non-publication of orders also remain. Your Lordships may adjourn these proceedings for a month forward, I won't press the contempt. Let's see how things go."
Justice Ramana, however, informed Ahmadi that the issue regarding non-publication of orders would be taken care of, and there was no reason to keep the matter pending.
To this, Ahmadi insisted that he did not wish to press the contempt and use it as a method of intimidation, however, the aspects of the plea had to be noted.
"Contempt may be disposed of, however, the issue of publication and review by Special Committee must be noted. Unless we have the orders in public domain and in terms of the Anuradha Bhasin judgement, the review must be done periodically", submitted Ahmadi.
He further stated that he had never treated this litigation as adversarial and pressed for the proceedings to remain pending in terms of the IAs which had been moved for publication of orders and reviews.
This was opposed by Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta who submitted that the Special Committee was already in place.
"I don't know why he wants to keep the issue pending. These things are taken care of daily."
In response to Justice Ramana's query about why the orders were not in public domain, the SG informed the Bench that the orders of the Special Committee had been notified and there was no reason to keep it pending. The AG too stated that the orders had been put up on the website, but the review committee deliberations could not be put up there.
Justice Ramana also agreed with the contention and stated that as the Committee had been formulated by the Court, there was no need to put out the orders.
Ahmadi objected to this, "I understand, notification of the same not required as formed by My Lords. However, the Review Committee was required to conduct review every week".
To this, Justice Reddy said, "No, no. This was a one-time measure. Look at the Order passed on May 11. It says that the Special Committee is to assist the regular committee. We have not overruled Anuradha Bhasin."
This was yet again refuted by Ahmadi, who put forth the argument that if the order in review was not in public domain, it would make challenging the same not possible.
This led to a discussion between Ahmadi, AG and the SG. Justice Ramana noted that Ahmadi was concerned that Anuradha Bhasin had been not been complied with and the review orders were not in public domain.
Accordingly, the Bench closed the issue of contempt and directed the Respondents to file a Reply to the IA within two weeks.
Ahmadi noted, "Today is a good day. A step forward has been taken."
On the last hearing, bench had asked the Solicitor General to seek instructions in whether 4G internet could be restored in certain areas and to not restrict his reply only to the question of contempt.
In the previous hearing, Senior Advocate Huzefa Ahmadi had informed Top Court that the Lt. Governor was of the opinion that 4G internet services should be restored in the region.
"The Lt. Governor says 4G should be restored. Ram Madhav, the Chief interlocutor, says the internet can be restored. I am only requesting that the SG look into this."
The Centre had stated that the statements therein were required to be verified and sought an adjournment, after which it was listed in Court today for further consideration.
On July 16, the Supreme Court granted a week's time to the Centre as well as UT of Jammu and Kashmir, to file a reply in the contempt plea. The contentions in the plea had been refuted by Attorney-General KK Venugopal, who argued that there was no question of contempt as the decision for continuing restrictions had been taken by the Special Committee and the same had been placed before the Bench in a sealed cover.
Subsequently, a Counter-Affidavit was filed by the Ministry of Home Affairs, stating that the Special Committee was constituted as per the SC directions and that it had decided against restoring 4G internet in the region for now. It was further informed that the Committee would have its next review meeting after 2 months.
The Central government had imposed a complete communications blackout in the erstwhile state of J&K in August 2019, right after the abrogation of Article 370. Five months later in January 2020, on the basis of a Supreme Court order, the services were partially restored, only at 2G speed for mobile users. Access was provided only to a selected "white-listed" sites, and social media was completely blocked.
On January 10, the Supreme Court held that indefinite suspension of the internet is not permissible and restrictions on the internet have to follow the principles of proportionality under Article 19(2).
The blockade on social media was lifted on March 4, but the speed was retained as 2G for mobile data.