WHILE MOBILE Internet services were suspended on Sunday, cellular network, landline and broadband connectivity were also shut down in the early hours of Monday in what was described as the “worst ever” blackout of communication services in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) in at least the last decade. In the past, the restrictions were limited to Internet services.
According to the latest subscription data provided by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), as of May 2019, there were 1,01,465 wireline subscribers and 1,13,39,647 wireless subscribers in J&K circle.
According to internetshutdowns.in, a portal tracking government-imposed Internet blackouts, there have been a total of 178 Internet shutdowns in the area since 2012 — of which 118 have been in 2018 and 2019 (so far).
As per the portal, the longest shutdown was in 2016, when mobile Internet services in Kashmir were snapped for 133 days following the protests triggered by the killing of Burhan Wani in July 2016. Last year, ahead of Independence Day celebrations, cellular as well as Internet services were shut down in Kashmir region.
In order to regulate the temporary suspension of telecom services on account of public emergencies, the Centre, in August 2017, had notified rules, according to which an order from at least a joint secretary-level official was made necessary for temporarily stopping telecom services. And an order from an officer not below the rank of a joint secretary, who has been duly authorised by the Union home secretary or the state home secretary, must be obtained in case of “unavoidable circumstances, where obtaining of prior direction is not feasible”.
Otherwise, such directions will have to be issued by the Union home secretary, or a state secretary in-charge of home department.
These bans, generally issued by the local authorities to control tense situations, will be reviewed by high-level committees, as per the new rules. The Indian Telegraph Act states that the Centre or a state may direct that “any message or class of messages to or from any person or class of persons, or relating to any particular subject, brought for transmission by or transmitted or received by any telegraph, shall not be transmitted, or shall be intercepted or detained, or shall be disclosed to the government…” in the interest of “sovereignty and integrity of India, security of State, friendly relations with foreign states” or to prevent “incitement to the commission of an offence”.Meanwhile, even as airline operations to and from Srinagar functioned normally, with 29 scheduled flights departing from the airport on Monday, passengers in the city could not be contacted to provide flight information due to the communication blackout. Fares on the Srinagar-Delhi sector, which had initially skyrocketed, remained subdued as private airlines implemented a cap of Rs 10,000 on the sector. Air India said it would hold maximum fare on the route at Rs 6,715 till August 15.