The Jammu and Kashmir administration on Wednesday extended the 4G mobile internet ban till October 21 in all districts, except in Ganderbal and Udhampur. The government cited terror threats and said the decision was “absolutely necessary” for the sovereignty and integrity of India.
Internet services were cut off in Jammu and Kashmir last year on August 5, hours before the Centre revoked Article 370 of the Constitution and split the state into two Union Territories. The low-speed or 2G internet service on mobile phones was restored on January 25, although outages continue to be imposed intermittently amid a complete ban on 4G network.
The government has repeatedly argued that such security measures were necessary to better integrate the region with India, foster greater economic development and stop threats from “anti-national elements” and Pakistan.
On August 16, the government restarted high-speed mobile data service in Ganderbal and Udhampur districts on a “trial basis”, as part of “calibrated easing of restrictions”. But on September 9, the Centre refused to extend high speed mobile internet outside the two districts, citing inputs about “terror modules” trying to lure youth into terrorist organisations.
In Wednesday’s order, Principal Secretary Home Department Shaleen Kabra said inputs from the law enforcement agencies suggest that concerted efforts continue to be made by Pakistan, with the help of “separatists/anti-national elements” in Jammu and Kashmir, to facilitate “infiltration of terrorists”.
The order said that these activities rely heavily on high speed internet, as the militants misuse social media to circulate provocative audio/video content, fake news, and also for coordinating their activities, which rely upon high speed mobile connectivity.
The administration added that during the last fortnight, there have been a number of “terror incidents”, with the authorities recovering huge cache of ammunition, and instances of disruption to public order with the “larger aim of causing disaffection and discontent against the State”. It said that keeping in view, the situation requires close monitoring including in the districts of Ganderbal and Udhampur.
On September 21, the Centre had defended internet blockade imposed in Jammu and Kashmir in Lok Sabha and claimed the low-speed 2G network service was enough to aid digital education and provide crucial public services during the pandemic. The government also claimed there were no restrictions on accessing any websites anymore.
The internet shutdown in the erstwhile state has attracted considerable criticism against the Narendra Modi government from various rights organisations as well as at the international forum. Media watchdog Reporters Sans Frontières while downgrading India’s ratings on the Press Freedom Index, had said that India’s score was influenced by the digital blockage imposed in Kashmir. On August 26, the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, or JKCCS, had called the communications blockade in the Union Territory “digital apartheid” and a form of collective punishment unleashed by the Indian government on the people.