The stringent communications clampdown in Jammu and Kashmir, enforced by the centre after it withdrew special status under Article 370, has been justified by the government as a "necessary" move in anticipation of violence in the region. Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla told a parliamentary standing committee today that restrictions were imposed "in view of statements by senior leaders of state" and said that the measures had ensured peace prevailed in Jammu and Kashmir.
The meeting was meant to be a closed-door session for parliamentarians to get first-hand information about the situation in the newly-created Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.
It was not meant to be a forum for discussions but the ruling BJP, which was outnumbered, finally backed down. Questions were then raised on several issues, including the "private" visit of a delegation of European Union MPs who were personally briefed by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.
When he finally began his briefing, the Home Secretary, among other things, referred to a statement made in July by former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, in which the PDP chief warned the centre against interfering with special status to Jammu and Kashmir. "...tinkering with Article 35A will be akin to setting a powder keg on fire," she said in Srinagar.
He also referred to security measures like curbs on internet usage, reminding the parliamentary committee that Pakistan had previously used social media to spread propaganda. "In 2016 it was used by sympathisers of separatists to promote tension in the Valley and that is why curbs are necessary," Ajay Kumar Bhalla said.
"The government had to be cautious and that is why trouble (-makers) were detained and some arrested. Political leaders were also detained in view of any protest," he added.
The Home Secretary said detained leaders would be released but did not commit to a time-frame.
The Home Ministry, which has repeatedly said that restrictions will be lifted in phases and once the situation has been normalised, today pointed to exams being conducted in nearly 700 centres and the resumption of train services and public transport as signs of that normalisation.
"People want to come back to their normal lives... that are why shops are also opening," a senior functionary, who was part of committee, explained.
According to data from police stations in the region, all restrictions have now been lifted. Phone services have been restored; this includes landlines and over 20 lakh post-paid mobile connections.
The government also said that despite terrorists targeting apple traders and orchard owners, nearly 16,000 metric tonnes of the fruit had been transported to the rest of the country.
Separatist leaders had refrained from strike calls since August 5, he added, claiming also that political leaders of the state had been so discredited that nobody had protested for their release.
The number of stone-pelting incidents has also reduced, with no pellets being fired in the last month, according to the centre.
In an effort to quell backlash and protests over its contentious move, the centre had detained hundreds of political leaders, including Ms Mufti and at least two other former Chief Ministers - Farooq Abdullah and his son, Omar Abdullah. Farooq Abdullah, 83, has since been charged under the strict Public Safety Act (PSA). The centre had also cut phone and internet services, leading to allegations that it was trying to muzzle the media, and deployed thousands of soldiers across the former state.
The measures led to protests over the exclusion of the state and, last month, prompted a group of US lawmakers to express concern over the situation. A Congressional subcommittee hearing acknowledged the government's claim that it was trying to ensure normalcy but said "...it has not returned to normal".