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J&K 4G Ban: Special Committee Has Decided Against Relaxing Internet Restrictions, MHA Tells SC

24 July 2020 3:11 AM GMT
J&K 4G Ban: Special Committee Has Decided Against Relaxing Internet Restrictions, MHA Tells SC

In response to the contempt petition filed by Foundation for Media Professionals(FM) in Supreme Court, the Ministry of Home Affairs has filed a counter-affidavit stating that the Special Committee to review the internet restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir has decided against restoring 4G internet in the region for now.

The affidavit states that the Special Committee, in its meeting held 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."

A copy of the report of the Committee will be placed before the Court, states the affidavit.

The MHA further informs the Court that the Committee will have its next review meeting after two months.

Refuting the allegation of FMP that the internet restrictions were extended in J&K without constitution a Special Committee, the MHA says that the Special Committee stood constituted on the day of the judgment of the Supreme Court on May 11, and not separate order was necessary for that.

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 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 MHA further claims that the suggestions made by the petitioners before the SC were also discussed and debated.

The contempt petition was filed on June 9 by FMP, alleging that the Special Committee to review the internet curbs in Jammu and Kashmir has not been constituted as per the SC directions.

On May 11, a bench headed by Justice N V Ramana, while declining to order the immediate restoration of 4G services in the region amid the pandemic and lockdown, 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".

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

This, according to FMP, amounted to "willful disobedience" of the SC directions.

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 the 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 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.

The Supreme Court had observed 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.

Click here to download the counter affidavit of MHA

Read the Counter Affidavit o MHA

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