Internet Disruption in Srinagar to Check Usage by Militants: Official

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Srinagar: For the past more than two weeks, residents in parts of the Kashmir Valley, including Downtown Srinagar, have been facing unaccounted for shutdown of telecom services that many have likened to the unscheduled power cuts that the region is prone to.

Officials on Wednesday admitted that the disruption was happening and said the move has been necessitated by the recent spate of target killings in Kashmir.

The Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, Pandurang K. Pole confirmed to Kashmir Observer that the partial internet shutdown was indeed in force in Srinagar city and some parts of South Kashmir beginning October.

“I want to make it clear that restriction on the internet has been imposed only in a few areas of Srinagar and some parts of Kulgam and Pampore [in south Kashmir],” Pole said. “In the rest of the Valley, the internet is working fine.”

The Divisional Commissioner said that the decision was taken after security agencies thought the evening hours were being used by militants to target civilians.

“The killings in Srinagar occurred during evening hours. It was also found that some apps were used in these areas by the militants,” Pole said. “So as a precautionary measure we restricted the internet during non-online class hours i.e. from 3 PM onwards.”

He further said the online classes for students usually take place from 10:00 AM to 3:PM in the late afternoon during which there are no restrictions.

The telecom services shutdown and the extra judicial seizure of two wheelers from civilians began after eleven civilians were killed by militants in Kashmir in the first week of October. It coincided with the first visit of the Home Minister Amit Shah to Kashmir after the abrogation of J&K's special status in 2019.

The police chief Vijay Kumar had then said that the "Seizing some bikes and shutting down the internet of some towers is purely related to terror violence. It has nothing to do with the visit" of the home minister.

However legal experts say, the continued unaccounted shutdown of telecom services – primarily the internet – in parts of the Valley is in violation of the Supreme Court of India's directives.

Pertinently, the administration has so far not issued in public record a single order under the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services Rules of 2017, the legal tool empowering the authorities to cut off the public’s access to the internet and other telecom services, they said.

The practice is also in direct violation of the Supreme Court of India’s judgement in the Anuradha Bhasin vs Union of India case amid the “longest shutdown of internet” in 2020, in which the country’s top court had outlawed indefinite suspension of telecom services without any review.

The court had stated that “competent authorities are directed to publish all orders in force and any future orders under Section 144, CrPC and for suspension of telecom services including the Internet to enable the affected persons to challenge it before the High Court or appropriate forum.”

It further directed that “any order suspending the internet issued under the Suspension Rules, must adhere to the principle of proportionality and must not extend beyond necessary duration” and must be “subject to judicial review.”

Habeel Iqbal, a Shopian-based lawyer, said that "neither the letter nor the spirit of Anuradha Bhasin Judgment is followed while imposing internet restrictions in parts of Kashmir over the last two weeks or so.”

Iqbal said that the “Supreme Court has clearly said that the order imposing a ban on the internet has to be published for the public which is lacking in these cases. These restrictions seem to be disproportionate and unnecessary and thus amenable to judicial review."

Home Secretary Shaleen Kabra didn’t respond to calls and texts from Kashmir Observer. The General Administration Department website also didn’t have a single TSTS order in the last two weeks.

Meanwhile, residents in several parts of Kashmir said that the internet shutdown was “unannounced” and occurred frequently throughout the day as well. They also complain of frequent call drops.

The shutdown is being reported from several parts of South Kashmir’s Kulgam and Pulwama districts. In Srinagar, the areas include Maharajgunj, Nowhatta, Safa Kadal, Bohri Kadal, Eidgah in the downtown and Qamarwari, Soura and Buchpora in its vicinity.

“I had to travel 7 kilometres every day to be able to use the internet for my online classes,” said Aadil Lateef, a student of 9th standard from Srinagar’s Noorbagh. Lateef is compelled to travel to the city’s outskirts – to Zainakote – to access the internet to attend online classes.

“Even if the internet works sometimes, the speed is too low to even download a small picture,” said another student, Mohammad Rasib from Srinagar’s Soura, another affected area.

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Auqib Javeed

Auqib Javeed is special correspondent with Kashmir Observer and tweets @AuqibJaveed

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