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[4G ban in Jammu & Kashmir] Centre guilty of contempt, Special Committee meeting details not in public domain: Rejoinder filed in SC

The petitioners have contended that the fact that the Committee had met on May 15 and June 10 was not put in the public domain.

Debayan Roy

A rejoinder has been filed in the Supreme Court stating that the Centre is guilty of contempt, as it did not publish details of the Special Committee meeting held to review internet restrictions in Jammu & Kashmir.

Foundation for Media Professionals, the NGO arguing the plea for restoring 4G internet in Jammu & Kashmir, has filed the application in response to the reply filed by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).

The MHA had filed a reply before the Supreme Court countering the claim that the Centre was guilty of contempt, since the Special Committee was constituted as directed in the May 11 verdict of the Apex Court. Through this reply, the Centre stated that the Committee was in favour of continuing the internet restrictions in the valley.

MHA had also stated that after the meeting on June 10, the Special Committee decided that "based on consideration and wide-ranging assessment of the prevalent situation in this sensitive region ... no further relaxation on internet services including 4G services could be carried out at the present".

The Apex Court was informed that the Committee will meet again after two months to review the situation.

In the rejoinder filed on July 27, the petitioners have contended that the fact that the Committee had met on May 15 and June 10 was not put in the public domain.

The petitioner contends that the failure to publicise this information was against the May 11 judgment of the Supreme Court in Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India.

It is further mentioned that the Special Committee was constituted to replace the Review Committee as mandated under the Telecom Suspension Rules, 2017. The rejoinder states,

“The Review Committee provides the “final internal check” over the orders issued by the competent authority since it has to meet within five working days of the order restricting internet services and record its findings regarding compliance with the substantive provisions of Section 5(2) of the Telegraph Act (such as the occurrence of public emergency/or in the interest of public safety).”

Claiming further violation, the rejoinder states that the Review Committee has to primarily perform three tasks:

a) Ensure compliance with the substantive requirements of Section 5(2) of the Telegraph Act.

b) Meet every seven days of the previous review order to ensure continued compliance with Section 5(2) of the Telegraph Act.

c) Assess whether the orders continuing the restriction on internet services are still proportionate, and the internet restrictions are not being carried out “indefinitely”.

Thus, a lapse of two months between meetings was a violation of the tasks entrusted for the Committee, argues the rejoinder filed through Advocate Shadan Farasat.

Moreover, it is stated that on August 5, 2020, it will have been a year since Indian citizens living in Jammu & Kashmir, who are entirely innocent of any wrongdoing and for no fault of their own, are deprived of proper internet service, which has become even more important during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The rejoinder also cites a July 26 news report stating that the government of Jammu & Kashmir had informed the MHA that it did not have any objection to restoring 4G internet services, and that high-speed net connectivity would not pose any problem.

The petitioners have also taken objection to the filing of the “so-called Report/decision of the Special Committee in a sealed cover” to the Apex Court as it “is antithetical to the letter and spirit of the judgments of the Supreme Court, which had given full recognition to the importance of institutional oversight, rule of law, and transparency.”

On May 11, while declining to order the restoration of 4G internet services in Jammu & Kashmir, the Supreme Court had said that the constitution of a "special committee", which is separate from the Review Committee prescribed under the Temporary Telecom Suspension Rules 2017, was necessary having regard to the seriousness of the matter.

Today, it was pointed out to the Court that Lieutenant Governor of Jammu & Kashmir Girish Chandra Murmu had called for restoring 4G internet connectivity in the valley.

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