No favour: J-K people demand compensation, apology after 4G internet restoration
"It is actually a moment to reflect how compensation can be sought from the cellular companies," said political analyst and author, Gowhar Geelani.
By Friday midnight, many people in Jammu and Kashmir were glued to their mobile sets as the 4G internet was slowly restored by the authorities. Although there were usual teething problems with the restoration on Saturday as well, many youngsters were eager to experience unhindered streaming of videos and digital data after 18 months.
While people were relieved over the restoration of what has become an important part of modern-day life, many in the region demanded apologies and compensation from the government and cellular companies for denying their right for so long.
“It is alright that they have restored the internet because it was the need of the hour but I don’t think there isn't any excitement as people are aware that they have lost a lot in these one and a half years. We lost our dignity, our statehood and most importantly, our special status,” said Tariq Ahmad, 19, a college student of Srinagar.
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Authorities suspended 4G mobile internet services on August 4, 2019, a day before the central government abrogated Article 370, which accorded special privileges to Jammu and Kashmir, and bifurcated it into two Union territories — J&K with a legislative assembly and Ladakh without one. The government also imposed restrictions on movement of people, suspended landline and mobile calling services, fearing widespread protests in the restive region.
While the restrictions were lifted after a few months, the postpaid mobile services buzzed back to life on October 14, 2019. Short messaging service (SMS) on all mobile phones and broadband internet services in government-run hospitals were restored on January 1, 2020.
Political analyst and author, Gowhar Geelani said that the restoration of 4G was ‘no favour’. “After having snatched your right to high-speed Internet service for 18-long months (550+ days)—besides suspending all civil liberties— restoring internet (allegedly) is not something to celebrate about. It is actually a moment to reflect how compensation can be sought from the cellular companies who took money for the services they have failed to provide for so long,” he said.
Habeel Iqbal, lawyer from south Kashmir’s Shopian district, said, the authorities should redress the wrong done due to ban on internet. “Kashmir demands ‘reparation’ which in legal terms is the process and result of remedying the damage or harm caused by an unlawful act. There are five forms of reparations which includes compensation as well as a guarantee that this should not be repeated,” he said.
Senior journalist Riyaz Masroor said that a sincere apology was due while restoring 4G in Kashmir. “Fundamental right shouldn’t be billed as an incentive or concession,” he Twitted.
The Jammu and Kashmir administration restored low-speed (2G) mobile internet and fixed-line connectivity in all districts with access to just a whitelist of around 301 websites in January 2020 following Supreme Court’s January 10 directive to review the ban on internet services in the UT every week. The move came after a petition by executive editor of a local daily, Anuradha Bhasin in August 2019.
Bhasin had said that the government was not offering people charity. “I actually see some going out of their way to thank govt functionaries for 4G restoration. They're not offering us charity. We should be asking for compensation for our deprivation and losses,” she said in a tweet.
“Why do I have this uncanny feeling that this 4G restoration is less about J&K people and more about international image due to farmer's protest,” she said.
In August 2020, high-speed (4G) internet was restored in two districts of J&K — Ganderbal and Udhampur — based on the parameters laid down by a special committee after the central government told the Supreme Court that restrictions on high-speed mobile internet services will be relaxed in one district each of Jammu and Kashmir divisions of the UT after August 15 on a trial basis.
The Supreme Court was hearing a petition filed by Foundation for Media Professionals, a non-government organisation, last June, seeking the initiation of contempt proceedings against the Centre and J-K administration for the failure to comply with the top court’s May 11 directions to review restrictions on mobile internet speed in the Union territory.
Guftar Ahmad, a political activist from Jammu division who works for the welfare of tribals and nomads, said that after 4G restoration, now the government should also restore Article 370. “After creating history of 18 months shutdown Govt has restored 4g Internet in J&K. Last time on 4 August 2019 J&K accessed high-speed Internet. In last 18 months economy of J&K witnessed massive damage.GOI should also restore Special status of J&K, Article 370. #Kashmir #Internet,” he said in a tweet.