Explore restoring J&K’s 4G services, Supreme Court tells Centre
The Centre should explore the possibility of restoring high-speed 4G mobile internet services in Jammu & Kashmir in view of the statements of GC Murmu, the former lieutenant governor of the Union territory, backing the restoration, the Supreme Court said on Friday.
“L-G Murmu has said that there is no difficulty in restoring 4G. You have to give an explanation to that,” justice R Subhash Reddy told solicitor general Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the Jammu & Kashmir administration.
Justice Reddy is a part of a three-judge bench hearing a petition of NGO Foundation for Media Professionals seeking contempt proceedings against the Centre and Jammu & Kashmir administration for their failure in complying with the Supreme Court’s May 11 directions for a review of restrictions on the mobile internet speed.
Murmu, who was succeeded by Manoj Sinha as the lieutenant governor on Friday, said on July 24 the restoration of 4G services will not be a problem and Pakistan will continue with its propaganda even if the mobile internet speed is restricted to 2G. The Centre has cited Islamabad’s propaganda while justifying the restrictions.
The petitioners highlighted Murmu’s statement to argue for the restoration of 4G services when the matter was heard on July 28.
Mehta sought time to file a response to the petitioner’s rejoinder. The court allowed it and adjourned the case until August 11 even as it said no further adjournments will be allowed.
“L-G is not part of the review committee. In your response, do not go strictly by whether or not contempt is there. You should also say whether 4G can be restored in areas [where there are no troubles,” justice Reddy said.
The Centre on July 28 told the Supreme Court it will verify media reports that said Murmu has advocated the restoration of high-speed 4G internet services. This came days after the Centre filed an affidavit before the court on July 21, saying a special panel constituted as per the latter’s May 11 order has decided against any relaxations for now. The Centre said the restrictions would continue for two more months before they are reviewed again. It added the panel constituted for the review on June 10 considered all aspects of the matter, including terror strikes, before deciding to continue the restrictions on 4G services.
The May 11 order was passed after the NGO in April challenged restrictions on mobile internet speed to 2G. The NGO sought restoration of 4G services saying patients, doctors, and the general public were unable to access the latest information, guidelines, advisories and restrictions about Covid-19 pandemic because of the restrictions. It pointed out that slow internet speeds make telemedicine, or online consultation, impossible.
The Supreme Court on May 11 refrained from passing directions to restore 4G services and instead ordered a constitution of the panel comprising high-level government officers, including the Union home secretary, to take a call on the matter.
The NGO in June filed the contempt petition saying there was no information available whether the constitution of the panel was notified and whether it has conducted any meetings or passed any orders.
The Centre told the court the panel was constituted by virtue of the May 11 order and no separate notification was required. The panel met on May 15 and sought further inputs before taking any decision. It again met on June 10 and decided not to relax the restrictions, the Centre said.
A communications blackout and a lockdown were imposed in Jammu & Kashmir in August last year as part of measures to prevent protests against the Centre’s move to divest the region of its special status. Most of the restrictions have since been eased even as mobile internet remains restricted.