The centre told the Supreme Court on Tuesday that while the situation in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) was still “not conducive” for fully restoring high-speed internet services, 4G access will be provided “on a trial basis in a calibrated manner in specified limited areas to assess the impact on the security situation”.
To begin with, the special committee — set up on the court’s orders to look into the issue of restoring internet services in J&K — has decided to allow 4G access in one district each in Jammu and Kashmir divisions after August 15, Attorney General K K Venugopal told a bench of Justices N V Ramana, R Subhash Reddy and B R Gavai.
Venugopal said the committee, which met on August 10, was “of the considered view that given the current security scenario, both in Jammu and Kashmir and in surrounding areas, the overall situation is still not conducive to lifting the limited restrictions on high speed internet through mobile devices whilst allowing broadband and 2G across the board”.
“After considering the views expressed by the security agencies and the local agencies… the committee was of the considered view that the threat perception on the security front in J&K continues to be high,” he said, quoting from an affidavit filed by the Centre.
“However, on trial basis, and taking into consideration the option to try out opening of high-speed internet despite the current security situation as reflected in the inputs of the security agencies, the special committee was also of the view that the present situation could permit a calibrated easing of restrictions in limited and specified geographical areas which are comparably less sensitive from a national security, internal security, border security and public order standpoint, subject to strict monitoring and periodical review,” he said.
Venugopal said the committee was also “of the view that internet speed related restrictions are not posing any hindrance to Covid control measures, access to education programmes or carrying out business activities” and “there is adequate access to internet through broadband services available over landline to business and healthcare institutions”.
The committee has submitted in the affidavit that:
* Any opening on trial basis should not be in any areas adjoining the International Border/ Line of Control.
* The area should have low intensity of terrorist activities and minimal spillover effects on neighbouring areas.
* The impact of the trial should be assessed by the state level committee periodically — at least once in seven working days.
* The central committee will review the outcome of the trial after a period of two months or before that if so required.
* The relaxation from 2G to 4G should be limited for the present to one district each in Jammu and Kashmir divisions so that both regions of the UT are covered.
* Keeping in view the heightened threat perception, these relaxations would come into effect after August 15.
The court was hearing a plea, filed by NGO Foundation for Media Professionals, seeking contempt proceedings against the government. The NGO had said the government had failed to comply with the court’s direction on May 11 to constitute a special committee, under the Union Home Secretary, to “immediately determine the necessity of the continuation” of limiting mobile internet speed in the region.
The Bench on Tuesday termed the Centre’s response as a “good stand”. “In view of the additional affidavit dated 10-8-2020 and upon hearing the learned Attorney General, learned Solicitor General and the learned senior counsel appearing for the petitioner, we find there is no case made out to proceed further in this contempt petition, and the same is accordingly closed,” it said.
Senior Advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, appearing for the petitioner, also welcomed the Centre’s stand and said it was a “step forward”. Though he did not press the contempt plea, Ahmadi said the government had not published the orders which were reviewed by the committee. The Centre said it would reply to this in two weeks.
High speed internet services in J&K were suspended in August last year, when the Centre announced revocation of J&K’s special status and bifurcation of the state into two UTs.
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