Panel formed to review J&K internet curbs: Govt tells SC

New Delhi The Central government told the Supreme Court that it did, as ordered to by the court on May 11, set up a committee to review curbs on 4G internet connections in Jammu & Kashmir, but not taken a decision yet because of a high number of terrorist attacks.

The committee is headed by home secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla, it added.

This is the first time the government has shared information about the committee — and it came in the course of a contempt petition by the Forum for Media Professionals that the court’s May 11 order on forming such a panel wasn’t complied with.

Attorney general KK Vengugopal also said that the committee met twice, on May 16 and June 10, and spoke of “20-page minutes” of the meetings. He said he was even willing to place the minutes of the two meetings in a sealed cover before the Court.He added that the committee sought details from the J&K administration on what steps could be taken to ensure that right to life, right to education, right to business and right to free speech and expression of J&K citizens is not hampered, and that it decided to meet after two months.

In the midst of the pandemic, residents in the union territory continue to live without high-speed mobile internet, affecting education, work, and life. A lot of activities have moved online in the wake of the coronavirus disease. High-speed internet and all mobile services were suspended on August 5 last year when the government abrogated Article 370 that gave the state special status. While mobile telephone services have been restored, 4G mobile internet has not been.

Responding to Venugopal, the bench of justices NV Ramana, R Subhash Reddy and BR Gavai asked the Centre to explain whether a decision had been taken on its May 11 direction mandating a periodic review of orders suspending telecom services in Jammu and Kashmir, and why the decision wasn’t in the public domain.

“Nothing is in public domain yet. What is the problem in informing public that there is a Committee and they are looking into this issue?”

Senior advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, who argued the contempt petition, pointed to an alleged fallacy in the attorney general’s submission that terrorist attacks in J&K had increased. He produced a statement made by home minister Amit Shah that the number of terrorist incidents reported in J&K have been the lowest since the scrapping of Article 370 in August last year.

Ahmadi said the contempt was clearly made out as the direction of the Court mandated the special committee to review the suspension of telecom services every week, consider alternatives suggested by the petitioners, and place its decisions in the public domain.

“At a time when the entire nation has easy access to internet, people in J&K are being denied this access. They can’t attend online classes, connect through internet or attend Court hearings through videoconferencing. This itself is violation of their Article 14 right,” Ahmadi said, referring to the pat of the Constitution that promises all Indians equality before the law.

The court asked Venugopal to submit a response in one week.

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