Broadband services back in J&K institutions, call on lifting curbs for public after Jan 26

Deeptiman Tiwary
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The order also puts the onus on government institutions and offices to ensure that Internet is not misused. (Reuters)

The Jammu and Kashmir administration Tuesday decided to restore broadband services in all government offices, institutions offering essential services such as hospitals and banks, and tourism-linked establishments, amid indications that the facility may be extended to the “general public” after the Republic Day celebrations on January 26.

“Broadband facility is being restored to get essential services functioning properly and tourism restarted. There will be a total ban on social media, though. A call on extending the facility to the general public will be taken after January 26, depending on the security situation,” top government sources said.

An order signed by J&K Principal Secretary (Home) Shaleen Kabra states that the administration is taking this
decision despite Intelligence inputs of terrorist activities and threats of attacks in Kashmir, since it believes that the services have become essential.

It acknowledges the Supreme Court ruling last week asking the administration to review all decisions related to curbs on Internet.

Also Read | Why SC order on Internet goes beyond J&K, opens window for challenges and judicial reviews

The order states that the measure would come into effect Wednesday for a week unless modified. “lnternet service providers (ISP BSNL/private service providers) to provide broadband facility... 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,” it states.

However, it asks all ISPs to install firewalls to block access to social media sites. “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 social media sites,” it says.

“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,” it says.

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The order also puts the onus on government institutions and offices to ensure that Internet is not misused. It asks them to appoint nodal officers for managing and monitoring Internet use, keep a record of users, and change accessibility credentials every day.

“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 Reading,” the order states.

However, mobile Internet will remain suspended in other districts of the Union Territory.

The latest move comes days after the Supreme Court directed the J&K administration to “review all orders suspending Internet services forthwith” since “an order suspending Internet services indefinitely is impermissible”.

On Friday, the Supreme Court ruled that “freedom of speech and expression and the freedom to practice any profession or carry on any trade, business or occupation over the medium of Internet enjoys constitutional protection under Article 19 (1) (a) and Article 19 (1) (g)”.

The court was hearing petitions by Kashmir Times Executive Editor Anuradha Bhasin and Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad who challenged curbs imposed in J&K following the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5 last year. SMS services were restored on mobile phones in J&K on January 1, 2020.