Broadband to be partially restored in institutions dealing with ‘essential services’ in Kashmir

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Srinagar

Broadband internet will be partially restored for institutions in Kashmir Valley after more than five months of blackout. The process, which will be conducted in phases, will start today. Social networking sites, however, will remain under complete restriction, the government order said.

The institutions that would be given internet access will include “government websites and websites dealing with essential services, e banking etc,” the order said.

It also specified that the institutions would be responsible for preventing any misuse and will have to take necessary precautions, including the appointment of nodal officers, keeping record and monitoring usage, and having authorised users.

According to Government Order No: Home -03 (TSTS) of 2020 Dated: 14.01.2020, Whereas, the police authorities have brought to notice material relating to the terror modules operating in the UT of J&K, including handlers from across the border, and activities of separatists/ anti-national elements within who are attempting to aid and incite people by transmission of fake news and targeted messages through use of internet to propagate terrorism, indulge in rumour-mongering, support fallacious proxy wars, spread propaganda/ideologies, and cause disaffection and discontent; and

2.Whereas, based on the intelligence inputs and assessment of the law and order situation obtaining on ground, the law enforcement agencies, while detailing the present situation, have inter-alia reported about the sustained efforts being made by the terrorists to infiltrate from across the border, re-activate their cadres and scale up anti-national activities in Kashmir Division as well as terrorism affected areas of the Jammu Division, by communicating effectively with their operatives within the UT of J&K through Voice on Internet Protocol (VOIP) and encrypted mobile communication through various social media applications to co-ordinate & plan terror acts; and

3.Whereas, the misuse of data services by anti-national elements has the potential to cause large scale violence and disturb public order which has till now been maintained due to various pre-emptive measures, including restrictions on access to the internet with relaxations in a calibrated and gradual manner, after due consideration of the ground situation; and

4.Whereas, as on date, mobile internet activity of all kinds has been suspended in the UT of J&K. However, internet through fixed-line broadband facility exists in Jammu Division while in the Kashmir Division, to facilitate the general public, students, etc., 844 e-terminals have been established besides 69 special counters for tourists, apart from separate terminals for filing of GST returns and application forms for various examinations. Also, among others, a number of Government departments including those related to essential services and Government hospitals have also been provided access to the Internet; and

5 Whereas, the Hon’blc Supreme Court of India has, in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1031 of 2019 titled Anuradha Bhasin Union of India and Ors. vide its judgment dated 10.01.2020. directed to review all orders suspending internet services forthwith and while taking decisions regarding restrictions, adhere to the principle of proportionality.

  1. Now. therefore, taking into account the ground situation and after considering the available alternative measures, in light of the reports of the authorized officers, subject to detailed review that is being undertaken, I, Principal Secretary to the Government, Home Department, being satisfied that, it is absolutely necessary to do so in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the Security of the State and for maintaining public order, in exercise of the powers conferred by sub-section (2) of section 5 of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 and the sub-rule (1) of rule 2 of the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Sendees (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017 hereby direct as under:

7.The existing access/ communication facilities indicated in the para 4 above shall continue and the Divisional Administration Kashmir shall additionally establish 400 internet kiosks;b) Internet service providers (ISP – BSNL/private service providers) to provide the broadband facility (with Mac-binding) to all the Institutions dealing with essential services, Hospitals, Banks, etc. as also Government offices, and in order to facilitate tourism, to hotels and tour and travel establishments

“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,” reads the order issued by government.

“The Institutions and Government offices that are being provided internet access shall be responsible to prevent any misuse, for which they shall take all the necessary precautions, including appointment of nodal officers, keeping a record of persons/devices, managing and monitoring day to day usage, changing accessibility credentials on a daily basis and ensure internet availability to only authorized users, etc,” it reads.

“2G mobile connectivity on post paid mobiles for accessing white-listed sites, including for e-banking, shall be allowed, to begin with, in the districts of Jammu, Samba, Kathua, Udhampur and Reasi. However, in the other districts of the UT of J&K, mobile internet connectivity shall remain suspended till further directions, pursuant upon a review of the adverse impact, if any, of this relaxation on the security situation,” it added

“The authorized officers shall ensure communication of these directions to the service providers with immediate effect and ensure their implementation in letter and spirit,” reads an order issued by Government.

8 .The aforesaid directions shall be effective from 15.01.2020 and remain in force for a period of 07 days, unless modified earlier. These shall supersede all the orders earlier issued on the subject.

Kashmir Valley has been without internet since August – part of a number of restrictions imposed by the government as “precautionary measures” against backlash after it ended the special status granted to 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 the reason for Internet suspension,” added the three-judge bench led by Justice NV Ramanna.

The court had also criticized 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.

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