MHA Claims Special Committee Met on 10 June, Upheld 4G Ban in J&K
Affidavit filed in Supreme Court says the decision was taken based on prevailing security situation in J&K.
The Ministry of Home Affairs has categorically denied allegations that the Centre committed contempt of the Supreme Court by failing to comply with the apex court’s directions for a Special Committee to look into the 4G ban on mobile internet in Jammu and Kashmir.
In an affidavit, dated 21 July, the MHA argues that the Special Committee was set up by the Supreme Court’s judgment itself, meaning the Centre didn’t need to take any further actions to set it up.
Moreover, the MHA claims that the Special Committee – which was supposed to consider whether the blanket internet speed restrictions across the Union Territory were excessive, and whether alternatives such as limiting the restrictions to certain areas would be more appropriate – has already met twice, on 15 July and 10 June.
As a result, they claim the contempt petition before the Supreme Court, filed by the Foundation for Media Professionals (FMP), “is misconceived and without any merit whatsoever, and is liable to be rejected outright by this Hon’ble Court.”
WHAT THE COMMITTEE DECIDED
The MHA affidavit states that the first meeting of the Special Committee, comprising of bureaucrats from the Centre and J&K, and headed by the Home Secretary, took place four days after the Supreme Court’s judgment in the case dated 11 May.
The committee is supposed to have “elaborately discussed” all aspects of the matter, including “the prevailing security situation in Jammu and Kashmir and the impact of the restrictions placed on 4G services in the region.”
No decision was taken on easing the restrictions at this time, as the committee decided to obtain further detailed inputs.
The second meeting, on 10 June, was held after such detailed inputs on the situation were received and analysed. The committee is stated to have conducted a “thorough and comprehensive consideration of all facets”, including the feasibility of the alternatives to the blanket restrictions “as well as the recent occurrence of terrorism related incidents in the region.”
The affidavit goes on to say that:
“Ultimately, based on a considered and wide-ranging assessment of the prevailing situation in this sensitive region, the Committee arrived at a decision that no further relaxation of the restrictions on internet services, including 4G services, could be carried out at present.”
The Special Committee also decided that they would carry out their next review of the situation after two months, though other authorities could review it regularly and take action if there was an improvement on the security front.
The Special Committee, according to the MHA, provided a report setting out the details of what it did, and the considerations it looked at while making its decision, to the Government of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. A copy of the report has been given to the apex court.
The affidavit says that:
“(A) reading of this report would establish beyond doubt that there is no merit whatsoever in the allegations levelled against the respondents in the contempt petition.”
It is not stated in the affidavit if a copy of the report has been provided to the petitioners, who had filed the contempt plea, and it is not clear whether any such document appears to have been served till now.
THE CONTEMPT PETITION
The contempt plea by FMP was filed on 8 June, as there had been no public statement till then about the functioning of the Special Committee, which was ostensibly in the hands of the Centre as the committee was to be headed by the Home Secretary.
The apex court judgment had been delivered almost a month before, in which the judges had ordered that the Special Committee needed to “immediately determine the necessity of the continuation of restrictions.”
The contempt petition was not listed for over a month, before the apex court finally conducted a short hearing on 16 July. Attorney General KK Venugopal and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre and the J&K government, submitted that there had been no contempt as the Special Committee had already been functioning, and had taken a decision on the 4G restrictions.
Senior advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, representing FMP (assisted by lawyers from the Internet Freedom Foundation), pointed out that no such details had been made public, and that the Centre was not responding to representations about the 4G ban.
Justice NV Ramana, heading the bench which heard the matter, also asked why there was no information about the compliance with the Supreme Court’s directions in the public domain.
The Centre was given a week to respond, which was why the MHA affidavit referred to earlier was filed.
FMP, in its petition, had noted that since the Supreme Court’s order on 11 May, there had been three extensions of the internet restrictions, on 27 May, 17 June and 8 July.
The MHA affidavit argues that these orders “are strictly in compliance with the law laid down by this Hon’ble Court”. The orders passed on 17 June and 8 July make no mention of the decision taken by the Special Committee on 10 June.
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