Hearing a a petition on Tuesday seeking restoration of 4G mobile internet services in J&K, the Supreme Court asked the Central government and Jammu and Kashmir administration to file a detailed response by Sunday. The hearing was held through video conferencing. However, the Attorney General KK Venugopal defended the ban on 4G citing threat to security. He said curbs on internet was “a very serious issue”, arguing that the militants “are being made into martyrs” in Kashmir and people attend their funeral in large numbers. He also cited a recent example when “about 500 people came for the funeral”.
Advocate for the petitioner Huzefa Ahmadi urged the court to ask Centre and J&K administration to file a response “expeditiously”. But Solicitor General Tushar Mehta sought more time to file a response saying there are “some communication and other issues”.
The petition filed by an NGO named Foundation for Media Professionals seeks directions for the restoration of 4G mobile internet services in the union territory in view of the spread of coronavirus.
Government has refused to lift the curbs on 4G despite a chorus of voices calling for its restoration. Recently, human rights watchdog Amnesty International too had sought restoration of the service to access health and safety-related information. The government, however, has chosen to do exactly the opposite and extend the ban. There is no credible explanation for this. Government is hiding under a blanket excuse of security. But there is not even a distant sign that Kashmir faces any immediate security challenge. Apart from protests in the first month after the revocation of Article 370 on August 5 last year, Kashmir has been peaceful over the past seven months. By December last even the hartal had come to an end and the daily life has since returned to normal. Besides the recent release of Abdullahs has done nothing to upset the public order contrary to government charges against them when they were in detention.
So, to say that 4G will pose threat to security doesn’t hold water. Besides, even if a few people are suspected to “misuse” the internet it doesn’t justify the collective punishment. More so, at a time when health of people is at risk. While on the one hand, government is taking every preventive to ensure COVID-19 by locking down the Valley and marking out the red zones it is restricting what should have been its main tool to spread awareness. It is therefore important that the government reviews its policy on 4G and restores it forthwith. This will strengthen the fight against coronavirus and at the same time there is no reason to fear its implications for the security
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