The Centre on Sunday defended the communication and internet blockades imposed in Jammu and Kashmir in Lok Sabha and claimed the slow 2G network service was enough to aid digital education and provide crucial public services during the coronavirus pandemic, PTI reported. The government also claimed there were no restrictions on accessing any websites anymore.
“The internet services are already available in Kashmir on fixed line and that too without any speed restrictions as well as 2G speed mobile data services are also operational since 24th January 2020,” Minister of State for Home GK Reddy informed the Lok Sabha in a written reply. “Restrictions on accessing social media sites have also been lifted from March onwards.”
Internet services were cut off in Jammu and Kashmir last year on August 5, hours before the Centre revoked Article 370 of the Constitution and split the state into two Union Territories. The low-speed or 2G internet service on mobile phones was restored on January 25, although outages continue to be imposed intermittently amid a complete ban on 4G network.
The government has repeatedly argued that such security measures were necessary to better integrate the region with India, foster greater economic development and stop threats from “anti-national elements” and Pakistan.
In August, the government restarted high-speed mobile data service in Ganderbal and Udhampur districts on a “trial basis” as part of “calibrated easing of restrictions”. But on September 9, the Centre refused to extend high speed mobile internet outside the two districts, citing inputs about “terror modules” trying to lure youths into terrorist organisations.
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In his response to the Lok Sabha, Reddy said that “the 2G mobile internet speed is not an impediment in Covid control measures including dissemination of information to general public as well as health workers”.
The minister added: “E-learning apps and education and e-learning websites of the government are accessible over 2G internet for downloading e-books and other study material.” He added that fixed line internet connectivity is available without any speed-related restrictions, and with Mac-binding.
Further, the response stated that the slow internet speed has not caused any obstruction in the path of administrative justice either. Reddy said the courts in Jammu and Kashmir have taken special measures to conduct their proceedings during the pandemic by providing video links/URLs to lawyers and the litigants.
“Considering the overall security scenario and in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the Government of Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir issues orders from time to time regulating telecom and internet services in terms of the applicable rules and the principles laid down and directions contained in the judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India...,” he added.
On Saturday, National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah, who is attending a Parliament session for the first time since the Centre abrogated the special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370, said that the Union Territory deserved the same rights as the rest of the country. Abdullah rued about the slow internet services available in the region.
“Today our children, shopkeepers don’t have a 4G facility that is there in the rest of the country.” he said. “If India is progressing, does Jammu and Kashmir have no right to progress with the rest of the country?”
The internet shutdown in the erstwhile state has attracted considerable criticism against the Narendra Modi government from various rights organisations as well as at the international forum. Media watchdog Reporters Sans Frontières while downgrading India’s ratings on the Press Freedom Index, had said that India’s score was influenced by the digital blockage imposed in Kashmir. On August 26, the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, or JKCCS, had called the communications blockade in the Union Territory “digital apartheid” and a form of collective punishment unleashed by the Indian government on the people.