J&K Internet: Did the Govt lie to the Supreme Court?

Kashmir is the only place in the world where people, even in a pandemic, have been denied a proper internet service

 J&K Internet: Did the Govt lie to the Supreme Court?

Haroon Reshi

Attorney General K.K. Venugopal informed the Supreme Court on August 11, undoubtedly on the briefing of the Government, that highspeed internet services would be restored on a trial basis in two districts of the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir. Blanket restoration of high-speed internet was not possible due to ‘security reasons’, he had added.

He also claimed, again briefed by officials, that there was adequate access to the internet through broadband services available over land line to business and health care institutions. The apex court was informed that “speed-related restrictions are not posing any hindrance to COVID control measures, access to education programs or carrying out business activities”.

The claim was reiterated by BJP’s Lok Sabha MP Nishikant Dubey at the meeting of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology.

True to their word, high speed internet service was restored in Udhampur and Ganderbal districts in August. The trouble is that the two districts have a combined population of less than a million whereas Jammu & Kashmir had a population of 12 million according to the 2011 Census.

Thus, most of the UT continues to be served by low speed 2G services, restored in March this year, affecting business, education and health. A cross section of the people this correspondent spoke to, were unanimous in confirming loss of jobs and business opportunities. The Government, they said, lied to the Supreme Court.

Ironically, the Supreme Court on January 10, this year had asserted that access to the Internet was a “fundamental right” under Article 19 of the Constitution. A five-judge bench headed by Justice NV Raman had also asked the UT administration to restore Internet services in important institutions providing essential services like hospitals and educational places.

But Dr Nisar-ul-Hassan, President of Doctors Association of Kashmir (DAK) told this reporter, “Kashmir is the only place in the world where people, even in a pandemic, have been denied a proper internet service. Low-speed internet connectivity has been a huge hindrance in communication between doctors and patients in the Valley.”

G N Var, chairman of the Private Schools’ Association of Jammu and Kashmir (PSAJK), claims that over 2.5 million school children have suffered in J & K because of the denial of Internet services. Online classes could not be held, teachers could not be trained and they could neither attend webinars nor organize them.

Mohammad Yusuf Chapri, chairman of ‘The Houseboat Owners’ Association, says though he maintains two Houseboat, he has not had a single tourist since August last year. Thousands of house boat and Shikara owners have completely lost their business, he informed. Bookings from abroad and transfer of payments suffered in the absence of high speed Internet.

Sheikh Ashiq Ahmad, president of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI), estimates that at least 1,200 IT professionals in the UT would have lost their jobs though some like Sheikh Parvez, CEO, Srinagar Technology Consultants (STC) Private Limited managed to take their operations out of the UT. “I managed to protect the services of my engineers but had to let go the nonengineering staff,” he confided.

Jammu and Kashmir had introduced its first start-up policy in September 2018 and facilitated the growth of 500 new start-ups. Hundreds of new business units related to Textiles, Fashion Technology, Agriculture, Horticulture, Floriculture, Renewable Energy, Handicrafts, and Handlooms were launched by ambitious and aspiring men and women. But the clampdown last year and suspension of high-speed Internet put paid to their plan.

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