4G services to be restored on a trial basis in two districts of Jammu and Kashmir after 15 Aug: Centre tells SC

High-speed internet services in Jammu and Kashmir were suspended in August last year when the Centre announced the revocation of Article 370

Press Trust of India August 11, 2020 13:50:07 IST
4G services to be restored on a trial basis in two districts of Jammu and Kashmir after 15 Aug: Centre tells SC

New Delhi: A special committee looking into the issue of restoring internet in Jammu and Kashmir has decided to provide 4G services on a trial basis in limited areas of the Union Territory after 15 August, the Centre informed the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

A bench headed by Justice NV Ramana was informed by Attorney General KK Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, that the committee has decided to hold trials for high-speed internet access in one district each in Jammu and Kashmir division.

The Committee has decided that access to 4G internet in Jammu and Kashmir be given in a calibrated manner and outcome of the trial will be reviewed after two months, he said, adding that it considered multiple options while keeping in mind the security situation as the threat perception remained high.

The bench also comprising Justices R Subhash Reddy and BR Gavai said this is a fairly good stand on the part of the respondents – the Centre and the Jammu and Kashmir administration.

It said that since both the administrations are saying they will review it later then why the matter be kept pending.

Venugopal further said that there was no case of contempt made out as the orders of the court were being complied with.

Senior advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, appearing for petitioner NGO Foundation for Media Professionals', said this was a step forward but still some concern remains.

He raised the issue of the publication and bringing in the public domain the special committee's orders as also its periodic reviews.

Ahmadi said he was not pressing for contempt in view of the Attorney General's submissions.

The bench was hearing the contempt plea filed by the NGO seeking action against authorities for not complying with the apex court's direction on the restoration of 4G internet services.

High-speed internet services in Jammu and Kashmir were suspended in August last year when the Centre announced the revocation of its special status and bifurcation of the state into two UTs – Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir.

At the outset, Venugopal said the Centre has filed an additional affidavit on the issue, and that the special committee had held its meeting on August 10.

"The committee was of the view that threat perception continues to be high," Venugopal said, adding that restrictions on high-speed internet are not posing any hindrance in the COVID-19 pandemic management and health care services.

The committee was of the view that "overall situation was not conducive for lifting restrictions on high-speed internet", he said, adding that it decided, however, to permit "easing of some restrictions in specified areas which are less sensitive, subject to strict monitoring and periodical review".

Venugopal said the committee has decided that access to high-speed internet would be provided on a trial basis in a calibrated manner and its impact on security will be assessed.

He said restrictions would not be eased around the LoC and the area where restrictions could be eased, should have the low intensity of terror activities.

The committee will review the outcome of trial after two months and the trial will be done in one district each in Jammu and Kashmir division, he added.

The top court closed NGO's plea seeking contempt proceedings against the Union Home Secretary and Chief Secretary of Jammu and Kashmir for their alleged "wilful disobedience" in complying with the court's 11 May order.

On 11 May, the top court had ordered the setting up of a"special committee" headed by the Union Home Secretary to consider pleas for restoration of 4G internet services in Jammu and Kashmir, saying national security and human rights need to be balanced in view of the fact that the UT has been"plagued with militancy".

On 7 August, the top court had asked the Jammu and Kashmir administration to explore the possibility of restoring 4G services in certain areas of the Union Territory, which sought time for instructions on the issue saying a new Lieutenant Governor of the UT has just been appointed.

Manoj Sinha has been appointed the new LG of Jammu and Kashmir after GC Murmu resigned from the post last week and was appointed Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG).

The top court had told the administration that with the change of LG, nothing changes as the special committee is there to look into the issue.

It had told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Jammu and Kashmir administration that he has to explain as to under what circumstances the former LG had reportedly said that the 4G internet service can be restored and what was the basis of that statement.

On July 28, the Centre and the Jammu and Kashmir administration had told the top court that it will verify reported statements made by Murmu and BJP leader Ram Madhav that 4G Internet service can be restored in the Union Territory, and sought time to file a reply to the rejoinder affidavit filed by an NGO.

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