Citing “the security scenario”, the Ministry of Home Affairs has informed Lok Sabha that it will not be able to disclose information relating to suspension of telecom and Internet services in Jammu & Kashmir.
In a letter Wednesday to Lok Sabha Secretary General Snehlata Shrivastava, Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla said, “considering the security scenario in UT of Jammu & Kashmir, disclosure of information relating to suspension of telecom services would be prejudicial to the safety or interest of the state”.
He also pointed out that “the matter related to shutdown of Internet in J&K… is also sub-judice” in the Supreme Court.
Citing Rule 270 of Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha, he said the “Government may decline to produce a document on the ground that its disclosure would be prejudicial to the safety or interest of the state”.
The Standing Committee on Information Technology, headed by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, had sought the presence of MHA representatives for a briefing Wednesday on ‘Suspension of Telecom Services/Internet and its Impact’.
Although Additional Secretary Govind Mohan appeared before the panel, sources said he declined to provide details on the Internet shutdown. When he was asked about the communication blockade in other states, the official, it is learned, said law and order is a state subject.
In his letter, Bhalla pointed out that the Union Home Secretary or the Secretary in charge of the Home Department can issue direction for suspension of telecom services. “It has been verified from the Lok Sabha Secretariat that the Committee proposes to discuss mainly the suspension of telecom services in J&K… The MHA has already stated its position on the issue and issues related to the subject before the Committee in its last meeting dated 16th October, 2020 and has nothing further to state or add in this regard,” he said.
In October, the Ministry had told the parliamentary panel that the Union Home Secretary had issued such directions twice in December 2019 in specific areas of Delhi for limited periods only. It also said the Ministry “does not maintain data of such suspension orders issued by various state governments including Jammu and Kashmir.”
Former Lok Sabha Secretary General P D T Achary said rules allow the government to reject a parliamentary panel’s demand for documents if the matter is linked to national security.
“The government can take the plea that since the matter involves the country’s security, the government is not obliged to supply the documents or papers or send officials before the committee to depose. But the government has to satisfy the Speaker that the matter involves security of the country,” Achary said, adding that ministries denying documents to parliament standing committees, where discussions are confidential, is rare.
The IT panel has witnessed a tussle between the ruling and Opposition parties over the agenda of telecom and Internet services in J&K. BJP members of the panel have objected to a discussion on the issue.
The Lok Sabha Speaker has written to all panel heads, asking them to avoid sub judice matters in committee meetings. Tharoor, however, replied to the Speaker, saying the issue of Internet connection was no longer pending before the court and that on August 16, the Centre allowed 4G Internet access on trial basis in Ganderbal and Udhampur in the Union Territory.
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