Journalists use mobile phones inside the media centre, in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir.(Waseem Andrabi / Hindustan Times)
Journalists use mobile phones inside the media centre, in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir.(Waseem Andrabi / Hindustan Times)

IT panel drops J-K internet restrictions from its agenda

The panel was scheduled to hear from home ministry and telecommunications officials as well as representatives from Bihar, Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir on September 1.
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By Deeksha Bhardwaj
UPDATED ON AUG 29, 2020 03:31 AM IST

Parliament’s panel on information technology dropped on Friday the issue of internet shutdowns in Jammu and Kashmir after Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla sent a letter to chairpersons of all House panels to not take up issues pending before courts.

Panel members told Hindustan Times that a message with a “partially” modified agenda was circulated among those in the committee that mentioned Bihar and Delhi internet shutdowns, but left out Jammu and Kashmir. Hindustan Times has viewed the message.

The panel was scheduled to hear from home ministry and telecommunications officials as well as representatives from Bihar, Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir on September 1. However, on Friday, the message made no mention of Jammu and Kashmir.

Hindustan Times on August 25 reported that Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla had written to the chairpersons of all parliamentary panels to select subjects following parliamentary rules and conventions, including not taking up subjects that are pending examination by courts.

“The Committees should give due consideration to rule 270 and other necessary rules and directions while selecting subjects for examination,” Birla said in a letter, accessed by the Hindustan Times. “In addition, I would like to point out that as per convention, the Committees do not take those subjects for examination where the issue is pending in the Courts.”

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According to rule 270, “A Committee shall have power to send for persons, papers and records, provided that if any question arises whether the evidence of a person or the production of a document is relevant for the purposes of the Committee, the question shall be referred to the Speaker whose decision shall be final”.

Moreover, the rule adds that the government may decline to produce a document on the grounds that its disclosure would be prejudicial to the safety or interest of the state.

The Supreme Court is still considering the matter of internet shutdowns in Jammu and Kashmir. While the next hearing has not been notified, on August 11 the Centre had told the court that it will be restore 4G internet services in the newly formed Union territory in a staggered manner after August 15.

A day after the speaker’s letter, BJP MP Nishikant Dubey had written to panel chairperson Shashi Tharoor to cancel the meeting since the agenda was in contravention of the rules. Hindustan Times reached out to Tharoor for a comment but did not get a response till press time.

The panel, however, is still slated to hear from Facebook about reports that its India policy head Ankhi Das allegedly acted in a manner favourable to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party by not censoring hate speech by some of its members.

“We were never against calling Facebook for an explanation,” said BJP MP and IT panel member Nishikant Dubey. “We just said that the proper procedure should be followed. Now permission from the speaker has been obtained.”

According to former Lok Sabha secretary general PDT Achary, the committee can take a decision to drop a subject any time.

“If the committee feels that a the subject need not be considered, they can drop it from the agenda,” said Achary.

“We should still like to hear the facts from the government, even if we don’t have a discussion on Jammu and Kashmir,” said an IT panel member on the condition of anonymity. “A statement has been allowed in the past. It should not be against the rules.”

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