Days After Supreme Court Order, Kashmir's Internet Blackout Far From Lifted

The Supreme Court had termed Internet connectivity as a "fundamental right" and ordered the J&K administration to review the curbs put in place.

Jammu and Kashmir continues to be under heavy security cover.

Srinagar:

The Supreme Court may have declared indefinite Internet blackouts impermissible, but the Jammu and Kashmir government seems to have found a way to circumvent the verdict and retain most restrictions in the Valley.

It has been five days now since a bench headed by Justice NV Ramana termed Internet connectivity as a "fundamental right" and ordered the union territory administration to review all curbs that have been in place for the last 164 days. The authorities, however, don't seem as forthcoming in their attempts to provide Kashmiris with free access to the Internet.

While the government has agreed to establish 400 internet kiosks across Kashmir with stringent conditions for internet service providers, they will be located largely in government offices and institutions such as tourist centres. Access to these kiosks will be provided only to those with official authorisation, and nodal officers will be appointed to keep a record of personal devices.

Lieutenant Governor Girish Chandra Murmu claimed that his administration was complying with the directives issued by the Supreme Court on January 10. "We are reviewing (the situation) continuously and are relaxing things accordingly. Normal communication and technology channels will be restored in coming days," he said.

The administration said that while it has reviewed the shutdown in keeping with court orders, factors such as cross-border infiltration and law and order prevent it from allowing residents of the Valley unbridled access to the Internet.

Some lawyers view this reluctance as non-compliance of judicial orders. They also point out that while the Supreme Court had asked the government publish all orders related to restrictions, it did so for just one while saying that it supersedes everything that came before it.

The official assessment on cross-border infiltration and the law-and-order situation, however, is at odds with what Mr Murmu has to say about the Valley. "The situation is definitely very normal, and people are cooperative and understanding," he told reporters.

The centre enforced curbs on Internet connectivity in Jammu and Kashmir on August 5 last year, when it scrapped the erstwhile state's special status under Section 370 of the Constitution and bifurcated it into two union territories. The extended blackout has been criticised by many in India and abroad, including the United Nations and the US State Department.

The Jammu and Kashmir administration claims that the Internet curbs have been instrumental in preventing a backlash from protesters, and has repeatedly pushed for its extension until the situation in the Valley is completely normalised.

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