Govt partially restores broadband in Kashmir, but no social media
15 January 2020
The government partially restored broadband internet connection for institutions in the Kashmir Valley as part of a phased restoration of broadband communication in the restive region infested by Pakistan-based terrorists and separatists. Starting today, government institutions and essential, services in Jammu and Kashmir will be able to access the internet.
"Government websites and websites dealing with essential services, e-banking etc," will be given internet access, a government order said. The order also states that the institutions would have to ensure that the facility is used only by authorised users and is not misused. They will be responsible for preventing any misuse and will have to take necessary precautions, including appointment of nodal officers, keeping record and monitoring usage, it added.
The process, initiated after more than five months of blackout, however, open up chat site. Social networking sites will remain under complete restriction, the government order said.
Access would be first allowed in Central Kashmir, including state capital Srinagar, which will be followed by north Kashmir (Kupwara, Bandipora and Baramulla) two days later, sources said. South Kashmir (Pulwama, Kulgam, Shopian and Anantnag) comes last, after another two days, say reports.
Authorities will conduct a review after a week and the Lieutenant-Governor will then take a call on the restoration of cellphone internet, sources said.
The restrictions on the use of internet was imposed in Jammu and Kashmir as a "precautionary measures" against backlash after it ended the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcated it into two union territories.
The decision to partially restore internet came after the Supreme Court, in response to a petition last week, ordered a review of all the restrictive orders that are still in place. This, the court said, should be done within a week. "Suspension of free movement, Internet and basic freedoms cannot be an arbitrary exercise of power," the court said.
Freedom of speech and expression through the internet is an "integral part of Article 19 (1)(A) of the constitution," and any "expression of dissent or disagreement against a government decision cannot be reason for Internet suspension," added the three-judge bench led by Justice NV Ramanna.
The court had also criticised the repeated use of Section 144, a British-era rule to ban large gatherings, in Jammu and Kashmir. "It can't be used as a tool to oppress difference of opinion," the court said.
The court asked the state to make public all the restrictive orders issued in Jammu and Kashmir over the past five months so they can be challenged legally, the bench said.
The J&K administration decided not to fully restore the service in order to prevent “anti-national elements who are attempting to aid and incite people by transmission of fake news and targeted messages … propagate terrorism, indulge in rumour-mongering, support fallacious proxy wars, spread propaganda/ideologies, and cause disaffection and discontent.”
An order passed late Tuesday by the J&K government’s home department cites “security of the state” and “maintaining public order” as the reasons to not to completely lift the internet shutdown, which it said was “absolutely necessary … in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India”.
In Kashmir, however, the ban on both mobile internet and broadband services for ordinary citizens, would continue, though the administration said it would open 400 more internet kiosks where the public could go in case of urgent need.
On Friday, the Supreme Court, while hearing the petition by Kashmir Times editor Anuradha Bhasin, had declared that the ongoing, open-ended internet curbs in J&K were not permissible, and freedom of speech and expression through the internet was a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution that could be subjected only to the same “reasonable restrictions” as speech through any other medium.
The court asked the J&K government to review its restrictions within a week and publish any orders on the basis of which it was imposing curbs but stopped short of directing it to lift the ban.
Tuesday’s administrative order also asks service providers (ISPs) to give broadband internet service to those institutions dealing with essential services, while stating that the government would open 400 more internet kiosks in Kashmir.
The order, however,states,: “Prior to giving such facility, the ISPs shall install necessary firewalls and carry out ‘white listing’ of sites that would enable access to government websites and websites dealing with essential services, e-banking etc. excluding, however all the social media sites. To amplify, there shall be complete restriction on social media applications allowing peer to peer communication and virtual private network applications for the time being.”