On January 14, the Jammu and Kashmir administration declared the restoration of mobile internet services in parts of Jammu region as well as broadband facilities at institutions that provide essential services. The decision comes days after Supreme Court had ordered a review of the prohibitions imposed in the newly formed Union Territory. The apex court had also termed the indefinite shutdown as “unwarranted”.
At a press conference on Tuesday, J&K Principal Secretary, Rohit Kansal announced that 2G internet services will be allowed on post-paid mobiles, but only for accessing whitelisted websites such as e-banking, in the five districts of Jammu, Samba, Kathua, Udhampur and Reasi of the Jammu region. Kansal didn’t elaborate about the websites under the whitelist category and refrained from answering reporters saying that “he will not take any questions”.
In Kashmir, Kansal said that broadband facilities will be provided at all institutions providing essential services such as hospitals, banks, government offices, trade and tourism and travel establishments. Additionally, 400 internet kiosks will be setup in the valley.
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Notably, even though the order was supposed to come into effect from January 15, yet there are no signs of mobile internet restoration on the ground. Additionally, as per the government’s order, a complete restriction on social media applications is still to be followed.
Response of Jammu Residents to the Latest Order
The government’s order to partially restore internet mobile services in Jammu elicited multiple reactions from residents in Jammu. While few heaved a sigh of relief, complete restriction on social media has irked many and many others are viewing this order as a mere hogwash.
“The restoration of internet and broadband in Jammu and Kashmir is a hogwash meant to quell the dissatisfaction of the Supreme Court. The broadband services have been working for sometime now. But as for postpaid 2G restoration and that, too, of selected websites is an Orwellian nightmare that we are enduring. Majority of the people have prepaid sims in Jammu region. And as of today, those services have still not been restored. The government is afraid of the backlash it will face from the locals once they are provided a platform to express their opinions. Hence, the ban on social media websites. The fact that this order includes a few places in Jammu and not the rest of the state, should make one ponder about the exclusionary policies of the government towards the Kashmiris. The Supreme Court should ask the Home Ministry to review this order as it is arbitrary and violates our fundamental rights,” Sungandha Sawhney, a resident of Jammu’s Gandhinagar told NewsClick.
The government’s order to restore mobile services on post-paid mobile phones has not gone well with the working class in Jammu. “Not many people in Jammu use post-paid mobile phones. People like us, from the working class, including drivers, conductors, daily wagers and others, use prepaid sims and recharge at our convenience as and when required. So, this restoration has not benefited us in any way,” said Ranjeet, an auto driver at Bahu Plaza, Jammu.
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Another resident from Jammu, Rabinder Singh, told NewsClick, “First and foremost, mobile internet has not been restored as of now. When the world is using 4G we will be accessing 2G internet? India is a democratic country, so freedom of speech is the fundamental right of every citizen. As the government keeps claiming J&K to be an integral part of India, it forgets that every citizen of our state should then be given same rights that are enjoyed by people in other state. They can’t curb our freedom of speech when even Supreme Court has found it unconstitutional.”
In Kashmir valley, broadband services were restored partially in government offices, especially essential services and in educational institutions like University of Kashmir. However, the order to restore internet services has not brought much relief to the people. "There were speculations that internet will be restored but it happened in Jammu province. I thought I would finally update my phone and laptop software but doesn't seem to be working," Mubashir, a resident of Srinagar's Hyderpora told NewsClick.
As per the order, there are specified locations where internet services will be provided to people. However, internet access at these locations in several areas of the valley becomes difficult due to inclement weather conditions prevailing in the region currently.
Even as the government maintains that the situation has returned to normal in the valley, it remains tight-lipped as to how long the internet blockade will continue in the region. The administration has said it will restore services in a phased manner starting from broadband in Srinagar and outskirts of the city.
Apart from the internet services, mobile services continue to remain partially shut in the region. The government has so far restored services on landline phones and postpaid mobile connections only, while over 30 lakh prepaid connections still remain affected due to the ban.
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