Srinagar, August 11, 2020: The Centre on Tuesday informed the Supreme Court it is open to lifting restrictions on high-speed 4G mobile internet services on a trial basis in select areas of Jammu and Kashmir.
Attorney General KK Venugopal said the 4G ban will be lifted in one district each in Jammu and Kashmir divisions after August 15.
The Supreme court was hearing a petition filed by Foundation for Media Professionals, a non-government organisation, in June seeking the initiation of contempt proceedings against the Centre and J-K administration for the failure to comply with the top court’s May 11 directions to review restrictions on mobile internet speed in the union territory.
In its last hearing, the top court had said that the Centre should explore the possibility of restoring 4G mobile internet services in Jammu and Kashmir in view of the statements of GC Murmu, the former lieutenant governor of the Union territory, backing the restoration.
“L-G Murmu has said that there is no difficulty in restoring 4G. You have to give an explanation to that,” justice R Subhash Reddy told solicitor general Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the Jammu & Kashmir administration, last Friday.
Murmu, who was succeeded by Manoj Sinha as the lieutenant governor on Friday, had said on July 24 the restoration of 4G services will not be a problem and Pakistan will continue with its propaganda even if the mobile internet speed is restricted to 2G. The Centre has cited Islamabad’s propaganda while justifying the restrictions.
The Centre on July 28 told the Supreme Court it will verify media reports that said Murmu has advocated the restoration of high-speed 4G internet services. This came days after the Centre filed an affidavit before the court on July 21, saying a special panel constituted as per the latter’s May 11 order has decided against any relaxations for now.
The government said the restrictions would continue for two more months before they are reviewed again. It added the panel constituted for the review on June 10 considered all aspects of the matter, including terror strikes, before deciding to continue the restrictions on 4G services.
The Supreme Court on May 11 passed its order after the NGO in April challenged restrictions on mobile internet speed to 2G. The NGO sought restoration of 4G services saying patients, doctors, and the general public were unable to access the latest information, guidelines, advisories and restrictions about Covid-19 pandemic because of the restrictions. It pointed out that slow internet speeds make telemedicine, or online consultation, impossible.
It had refrained from passing directions to restore 4G services and instead ordered a constitution of the panel comprising high-level government officers, including the Union home secretary, to take a call on the matter.
The NGO in June filed the contempt petition saying there was no information available whether the constitution of the panel was notified and whether it has conducted any meetings or passed any orders.
A communications blackout and a lockdown were imposed in Jammu and Kashmir in August last year as part of measures to prevent protests against the Centre’s move to divest the region of its special status. Most of the restrictions have since been eased even as mobile internet remains restricted.