"Answer whether any area is open for restoration of 4G", asked the Supreme Court to the Centre on Friday, while adjourning the contempt petition filed by Foundation for Media Professionals (FMP) over the non-constitution of Special Committee to review the ban on 4G speed internet in Jammu and Kashmir.
A Bench of Justices NV Ramana, R. Subash Reddy and BR Gavai heard the matter and asked Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta, appearing on behalf of Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, whether it was possible to restore 4G internet services in some areas.
The SG, however, sought for an adjournment as a new LG had been appointed yesterday in Jammu and Kashmir, with GC Murmu resigning and taking over as the CAG.
The Bench, while noting that they could not speak for the ground situation there, asked the SG whether 4G services could be restored in certain areas. To this, the SG responded that the new LG had taken over and some developments had ensued which were required to be ascertained.
At this juncture, Senior Advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, appearing on behalf of the Petitioner, submitted, "SG appears for UT of J&K, and AG for the Centre. On the last date of hearing, SG had said that he does not even want to file a Reply. AG said that he does not want to file a Reply. Now today, the submission for replying has come from the Union."
Justice Ramana noted this and stated, "I understand you have waited for a while; wait for another two days." Justice Reddy informed the Counsels that the question here was solely about contempt. As the SG was appearing for the Centre, he sought for adjournment till Tuesday as it was a minor issue. Justice Ramana allowed the same, but he informed the SG that he should not go strictly by contempt and should prepare an answer about whether any area was open for the restoration of 4G internet services. Accordingly, the matter has been adjourned to August 11. The Bench has made it clear that no further adjournment shall be granted on that date.
The instant plea seeks 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.
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.