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Centre Says It Needs To Verify Statements Of J&K LG Favouring Restoration Of 4G Services; SC Adjourns Hearing Till Aug 7

Radhika Roy
28 July 2020 6:39 AM GMT
Centre Says It Needs To Verify Statements Of J&K LG Favouring Restoration Of 4G Services; SC Adjourns Hearing Till Aug 7

The reported statements of Lieutenant General of Jammu and Kashmir, GC Murmu, favouring the restoration of 4G internet services in Jammu and Kashmir need to be verified, submitted Attorney General, K K Venungopal, before the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The AG, representing the Central Government, made the submission in the contempt petition filed by Foundation for Media Professionals(FMP), alleging non-compliance of the May 11 order of the Apex Court, wherein directions were given for the constitution of a Special Committee to review the restrictions on internet services in Jammu and Kashmir.

Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta, representing the J&K administration, submitted that rejoinder filed by the petitioner in response to the counter affidavit was lengthy and required time for its perusal.

Accordingly, a bench of Justices NV Ramana, R. Subhash Reddy and BR Gavai adjourned the matter to August 7th.

Senior Advocate Huzefa Ahmadi
, appearing on behalf of the petitioner, did not oppose the request for adjournment. However, he submitted to the Court that the Centre had filed its Counter-Affidavit recently as well, i.e. on 23rd July. He further informed the 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."

Attorney-General Venugopal, at this juncture, submitted that he will have to verify these statements.

The Bench was then inclined to list the matter on August 5th. However, this was opposed by the SG, who stated that "it would be better to have it on another date, as August 5 is the date of imposition of internet curbs in Jammu and Kashmir".

Accordingly, the matter is now listed on August 7th.

On May 11, the Supreme Court, while declining to direct immediate restoration of 4G services in the region amidst the national lockdown in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, had ordered for the constitution of a Special Committee, comprising of Secretaries at national, as well as State level, "to look into the prevailing circumstances and immediately determine the necessity of the continuation of the restrictions in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir".

However, the internet restrictions were extended thrice, citing the threat of cross-border terrorism. In light of this, a contempt plea was filed by Foundation for Media Professionals, alleging "willful disobedience" of the Supreme Court orders.

In the previous hearing, 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

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