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J&K 4G Ban : No Contempt As Special Committee Already Constituted; Decision Taken, AG Tells SC

Sanya Talwar & Nilshish Chaudhary
16 July 2020 6:09 AM GMT
J&K 4G Ban : No Contempt As Special Committee Already Constituted; Decision Taken, AG Tells SC

The Supreme Court on Thursday granted one week time to the Centre and UT of Jammu & Kashmir to file their reply in the plea seeking contempt 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.

A bench of Justices NV Ramana, R Subhash Reddy & BR Gavai refused to issue notice in the petition filed by Foundation for Media Professionals alleging contempt for the inaction of Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs and Chief Secretary, U.T. of Jammu & Kashmir.

When the matter was called out, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta sought for an adjournment stating that a Committee had already been formed.

Senior Advocate Huzefa Ahmadi appeared for the petitioner and stated that the Respondents were in "blatant defiance" of the Top Court's order for non-compliance and that even though, the petitioners made several representations of them after the Order of Top Court, they did not get any response. He pressed for issuance of notice in the case on account of prima facie contempt.

Ahmadi:"In the meanwhile, people of J&K suffer....On May 16 we made a representation to them, asking them what they did in terms of SC's orders, as they passed suspension orders. We got no response. A second letter written on May 26, no response again. How do I know if they have taken into account my representations if they do not publish the orders or place it in the public domain? This is in blatant defiance of the SC orders."

Attorney General KK Venugopal refuted these arguments advanced by Ahmadi. "There is no question of Contempt" AG said.

He argued that a decision was in fact taken by the Special Committee and there was no question of contempt. He went on to state that the same has already been placed before the bench in a sealed cover.

AG: "Please consider it and see if we have not complied. There is no question of contempt. Please see and post the matter after two months" AG added.

Justice Ramana enquired as to why the decision taken by Special Committee was not in "public domain".

Ahmadi: "Contempt is clear because they did not publish orders. They did not put it in public domain. Top Court passed order in Anuradha Bhasin in January."

The Attorney General heavily refuted the claims of contempt as argued by Ahmadi and stated that he was ready to argue the case but would not do so on contempt simply because there wasn't any. He added that he had not been supplied with a copy of the petition either.

Background:

On May 11, the Top Court had ordered,

"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 comprising of the following 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", the SC had observed.

Even after such directions, the internet restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir were extended , without the formation of Special Committee, states the plea.

This, according to FMP, amounts to "wilful disobedience" of the SC directions.

The contempt petition, filed on June 9, is getting listed for admission tomorrow.

After the SC verdict of May 11, the J&K administration extended the internet curbs thrice - on May 27, June 17 and July 8 - citing threat of cross-border terrorism. The administration also claimed that 2G internet speed has not caused any impediment to COVID-19 control steps, online education or e-commerce.

Along with the contempt plea, FMP has also filed an application for immediate restoration of 4G services in the region, stating that the denial of the same amid the pandemic and lockdown has resulted in disrupting medical services, online education and e-commerce activities.

The Central government had imposed a complete communications blackout in the erstwhile state of J&K in August 2019, right after 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.

The Supreme Court had observed that indefinite suspension of internet is not permissible and restrictions on 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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