The Special Committee stated to have been constituted by the Central Government to review the 4G internet ban in Jammu and Kashmir is in violation of the Supreme Court directions for periodic review of internet curbs in J&K every seven days, stated the Foundation for Media Professionals in their rejoinder filed in the contempt petition filed in the SC.
The rejoinder was filed in response to the counter-affidavit filed by the Ministry of Home Affairs last week in which it was claimed that the Special Committee had reviewed the internet curbs in the region, as directed by the SC in its judgment delivered on May 11.
The Centre had further stated that the Special Committee, as per its meeting on June 10, decided against lifting the 4G ban, considering the prevailing situation of terror, and adjourned the next review for two months.
The FMP states that such conduct by the Special Committee is in violation of the SC judgment in Anuradha Bhasin case, which held that internet curbs must be periodically reviewed by the review committee every seven days.
The FMP further points out that the 4G ban in J&K was extended twice, on June 17 and July 8, after June 10, the date on which the Special Committee is said to have met. This means that the last two extension orders have not been subjected to the review of Special Committee.
"Thus, internet services of the entire Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir continue to be unilaterally restricted to 2G speeds without even a façade of review or oversight provided by the Executive Branch of government", states the rejoinder filed through Advocate Shadan Farasat.
The petitioner further states that the decision of the Special Committee has not been made public, though Anuradha Bhasin judgment clearly mandates the publication of all orders suspending internet.
It is further stated that the Special Committee refused to apply the doctrine of proportionality as expounded by the SC in the Anuradha Bhasin case.
"...the Special Committee's failure to apply the proportionality standard; or determine the appropriateness of the Petitioner's alternatives; or restore faster (3G/4G) internet speeds on a "trial basis" is evident from the fact that nearly one year has elapsed since Indian citizens living in Jammu &Kashmir, who are entirely innocent of any wrongdoing and for no fault of their own, have been deprived of proper internet services, which has become even more important during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic", the rejoinder states.
It is also stated that the Lieutenant General of Jammu and Kashmir, GC Murmu, has favoured the restoration of 4G internet in the region saying that high speed connectivity did not pose a problem.
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".
This was ordered by the Court after noting that an entity other than the Review Commitee under the Temporary Suspensin of Telecom Services Rules 2017 was required to consider the issue, in view of its seriousness.
However, internet restrictions were extended thrice after the SC judgment, 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.
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.
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.