AFTER more than a year, high-speed mobile internet services were restored on a trial basis in Udhampur and Ganderbal districts of Jammu and Kashmir on Sunday night. The 4G internet, as it is called, will remain in force till September 8, unless modified earlier, in both the districts – one each in Jammu and Kashmir divisions.
The move has followed after the centre informed the Supreme Court that a special committee looking into the matter was considering permitting the facility in two of the 20 districts of the erstwhile state. This is a welcome decision and the people will hope that this trial run leads to restoration of the high speed mobile internet across the union territory.
A plea before the Supreme Court was filed by a not-for-profit organization Foundation for Media Professionals that argued the lack of 4G internet was causing difficulties for the general public during the Covid-19 outbreak. The government contended the plea was misconceived as all information related to Covid-19 could be accessed on fixed line internet not barred by speed restrictions. Importantly, the government said the decision as to whether a controlled access to internet is still warranted depends on the ground situation.
The government argument is fundamentally flawed, as the ground situation in the Valley has remained calm over the past year. So, no matter what the government says, its security argument to keep 4G internet suspended isn’t convincing enough. Truth is the Valley has not witnessed a protest or a stone-throwing incident in a long time. So, to say that 4G will pose threat to security doesn’t hold water.
The government, therefore, needs to rethink the internet ban in its entirety. Six months ban on the service and ever since a severely curbed mobile internet is the longest denial of what the apex court has termed as a fundamental right.
Also, the government also needs to give people a free access to internet as part of the measures to fight ongoing health emergency. While on the one hand, the government has intermittently locked the region down so that Covid-19 doesn’t spread, it is restricting what should have been its main tool to spread awareness. More than preventive measures, it is how much people are informed about the disease that will help the government to control the disease. One can also expect that from hereon the government finds no excuse to deny the high-speed internet just because a few people choose to ‘misuse’ the service. This would be tantamount to inflicting a collective punishment for the alleged sin of a few. More so, when the government has the means to identify these few.
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