Broadband internet will be partially restored for institutions in Kashmir Valley after more than five months of blackout. The process, which will be conducted in phases, will start on Wednesday. Social networking sites, however, will remain under complete restriction, the government order said.
The institutions that would be given internet access will include “government websites and websites dealing with essential services, e banking etc,” the order said. It also specified that the institutions would be responsible for preventing any misuse and will have to take necessary precautions, including appointment of nodal officers, keeping record and monitoring usage, and having authorised users.
Access would be first allowed in Central Kashmir including state capital Srinagar, which will be followed by north Kashmir (Kupwara, Bandipora and Baramulla) two days later, sources said. South Kashmir (Pulwama, Kulgam, Shopian and Anantnag) comes last, after another two days, sources said.
A review will be conducted after a week and the Lieutenant-Governor will then take a call on the restoration of cellphone internet, sources said.
Kashmir Valley has been without internet since August – part of a number of restrictions imposed by the government as “precautionary measures” against backlash after it ended the special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the constitution and bifurcated it into two union territories.
The decision to partially restore internet came after the Supreme Court, in response to a petition last week, ordered a review of all the restrictive orders that are still in place. This, the court said, should be done within a week. “Suspension of free movement, Internet and basic freedoms cannot be an arbitrary exercise of power,” the court said.
Freedom of speech and expression through the internet is an “integral part of Article 19 (1)(A) of the constitution,” and any “expression of dissent or disagreement against a government decision cannot be reason for Internet suspension,” added the three-judge bench led by Justice NV Ramanna.
The court had also criticized the repeated use of Section 144, a British-era rule to ban large gatherings, in Jammu and Kashmir. “It can’t be used as a tool to oppress difference of opinion,” the court said.
The court asked the state to make public all the restrictive orders issued in in Jammu and Kashmir over the past five months so they can be challenged legally, the bench said.
Sources said the state government will comply with the Supreme Court directions.