THE JAMMU and Kashmir (J&K) administration ordered the restoration of pre-paid cellphone service (voice and SMS) on Saturday, over five months after it was suspended.
“After a careful review, the competent authority has ordered today that voice and SMS facility shall be restored on all local prepaid SIM cards across the Union Territory of J&K,” said Rohit Kansal, the official spokesperson. “Further, in order to consider provision of mobile internet connectivity on such SIM cards, the telecom service providers shall initiate the process of verification of credentials for these subscribers as per available norms for post-paid subscribers,” he said.
Kansal said telecom service providers have also been directed to restore 2G mobile internet connectivity to 153 white-listed sites on post-paid cellphones in all the 10 districts of Jammu and two revenue districts of Kashmir — Kupwara and Bandipora. However, mobile internet connectivity will remain suspended in Srinagar, Budgam, Ganderbal, Baramulla, Anantnag, Kulgam, Pulwama and Shopian districts in the Valley.
What Supreme Court said
On Jan 10, Supreme Court asked J&K administration to “review all orders suspending internet services forthwith”. It said “freedom of speech and expression and the freedom to practice any profession or carry on any trade... over the medium of Internet enjoys constitutional protection”.
“Telecom service providers are being issued instructions to operationalise the directions immediately after providing all the safeguards detailed in the order issued today by the competent authority,” said Kansal.
He said the internet service providers — BSNL and private service providers — would provide fixed line internet connectivity, with precautions already directed, to all companies engaged in the software services sector.
As per the order issued by Principal Secretary, Home Department, Shaleen Kabra “the directions would be effective from Saturday and remain in force till January 24, unless modified earlier”.
“Assessment of the overall security scenario in the UT of J&K, pursuant to directions on January 14 relating to the regulation of telecom services does not indicate any immediate adverse impact in the areas where internet access was provided,” the order said.
The latest development comes a week after the Supreme Court, on January 10, asked the J&K administration to “review all orders suspending internet services forthwith”. Ruling that “freedom of speech and expression and the freedom to practice any profession or carry on any trade, business or occupation over the medium of Internet enjoys constitutional protection under Article 19 (1) (a) and Article 19 (1) (g)”, the Supreme Court had said that “an order suspending internet services indefinitely is impermissible”.
It had said “restriction upon such fundamental rights should be in consonance with the mandate under Article 19 (2) and (6) of the Constitution, inclusive of the test of proportionality”.
On January 14, the administration announced partial restoration of 2G services in five of the 10 districts of Jammu and broadband facilities for essential services including banks, government offices, trade, tourism and travel establishments. Kansal said the overall effort was to keep the restrictions to a bare minimum, based on the ground situation.
However, all ISPs have been told to install firewalls to block access to social media sites.
Top government sources had said that a call on restoring broadband facility to the general public would be taken after January 26, depending on the security situation.
Internet services, landline and mobile phones were snapped across J&K on the eve of the Centre’s announcement, on August 5, of its decision to scrap special status of the erstwhile state under Article 370 and its bifurcation. While most of the services were restored in Jammu by the end of the month, landlines, postpaid mobile services and internet facilities to essential services like hospitals were restored in phases in Kashmir.
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