The Special Committee, constituted to review the restrictions on mobile internet speed in Jammu and Kashmir, will next review the situation around August 10, two months after it last met on June 10, according to a counter affidavit filed by the Ministry of Home Affairs in the Supreme Court late Thursday night. In the two meetings that have taken place so far, where the situation was assessed, the Committee had decided that “no further relaxation of the restrictions on internet services, including 4G services” will be done at the present. However, as per the affidavit, if other “competent authorities”, who are regularly reviewing the situation, think there is an “improvement in the security situation”, “appropriate action” will be taken.
On July 16, the apex court had directed the central government to file a counter affidavit within one week in response to the contempt petition filed by the Foundation for Media Professionals (FMP) in the Jammu and Kashmir 4G restoration case on June 9. Filed by Baijnath Prasad, the Deputy Secretary (Legal and Constitution) in the Home Ministry, the counter affidavit called FMP’s allegations that the Special Committee had not been constituted as per May 11 Supreme Court order “wholly wrong and misconceived”.
The Print first reported this development but misstated that the the counter affidavit was filed on July 21. The counter affidavit was verified by Prasad on July 21, but was filed on July 22 as per the Supreme Court website. The case was supposed to be listed on Thursday (July 23) but was not.
Special Committee has met twice so far, report from last meeting submitted to JK govt, SC
The Committee, which comprises of the Union Home Secretary (who also chairs it), Department of Communications’ Secretary and the Chief Secretary of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, has met twice so far — on May 5 and on June 10. In the May 10 meeting, as per the counter affidavit, the Committee discussed the security situation in Jammu and Kashmir and the impact of the restrictions on 4G services. In that meeting, the Committee decided to “obtain further detailed inputs” about the ground-level situation before taking a decision. The counter affidavit did not specify how this inputs were sought or who gave them.
In its June 10 meeting, the Committee considered the occurrence of terrorism related incidents in the region and alternatives suggested by FMP to ultimately decide against relaxation of the restrictions. It submitted a report of this to the government of Jammu and Kashmir, and also submitted it before the apex court in a “sealed cover”. This means that no one except the bench of Justices N.V. Ramana, R. Subhash Reddy and B.R. Gavai will view the report. The petitioners, too, will not get access to the report. In the last hearing, Attorney General K.K. Venugopal, on behalf of the Indian government, had offered to submit the minutes of the two meetings in a sealed cover to the bench along with the counter affidavit in the next week.
Apar Gupta, the executive director of Internet Freedom Foundation which is representing FMP, told MediaNama that IFF would file a response to the counter affidavit. “[A]s lawyers on behalf of Foundation for Media Professionals the legal team is in the process of assessing the contents of the counter affidavit and filing a response,” he said.
Govt continues to deprive Kashmiris of 4G internet
Communication services were suspended in Jammu and Kashmir on August 4, 2019, a day before the Indian Parliament abrogated Article 370 that gave special status to the state. Through the abrogation of Article 370, the Indian government has formed two new union territories — Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh — in the region. Since then, certain services have been resumed, but the Jammu and Kashmir government has repeatedly passed orders to extend restrictions on internet speed in the region.
The absolute internet shutdown was lifted in January 2020 as the government whitelisted a couple of hundred websites on 2G speeds. All websites were unblocked on March 4, but speed remains throttled to 2G. As per the latest order dated July 8, 2G internet speeds are supposed to continue at least until July 27.
The region also saw multiple internet shutdowns in June 2020.
***Update (July 28 3:35 pm): The article incorrectly referred to the counter affidavit filed by the Home Ministry as an affidavit. The error is regretted.
***Update (3:37 pm): Updated with response from Internet Freedom Foundation’s Apar Gupta. Originally published on July 24, 2020 at 12:14 pm.