3G-4G ban | People being denied a basic right, say political parties

As the political activity in Jammu and Kashmir is being allowed to some extent after a year, restoration of 4G internet has found a mention in demands of most parties but to no avail yet.

The high speed internet has remained in suspension since August 5, 2019, when the Government of India scrapped special Constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir. However, despite constant criticism from rights groups and political parties to this denial of basic right to people, authorities continue to throttle internet speed in J&K barring Ganderbal and Udhampur, where it was restored “on trial basis” recently.

The restrictions on 3G-4G internet services for more than a year now has affected day-to-day life to an extent that it found a pertinent mention in the party outlook of J&K Apni Party (JKAP) during its launch in March this year. However, while reacting to the latest government order issued on Wednesday, regarding continuous suspension of 4G internet till October 21, barring two districts of J&K, president of JKAP Syed Muhammad Altaf Bukhari said “it was unfortunate that people were still being denied the right to use high speed internet.”

“The trial for restoration of 4G internet service in two districts has gone quite smoothly. If the experimental basis of 4G restoration didn’t pose any problems, then why deny students and business community 4G now,” said Bukhari. Bukhari said his party has been regularly raising the issue of 4G restoration and will continue “fighting for this right of people.”

“We have been demanding restoration of 4G but are often given the reason about law and order, security. Against this reasoning, we can’t push our demand for high speed internet beyond a certain extent,” Bukhari said.

National Conference, the oldest political party of Jammu and Kashmir, has also been vocal about the problems caused to common people due to suspension of 4G internet service. Taking to Twitter, NC vice-president Omar Abdullah said suspension of 4G internet was a major concern as it had caused inconvenience to people.

“Has there been any adverse fallout in Udhampur or Ganderbal after 4G connectivity was restored? If the security parameters have remained the same & not worsened then 4G should be restored across entire J&K. 4G was alleged to be linked to increased “anti-India propaganda”,” Omar wrote on Twitter.

Several Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leaders last week held a protest to raise their demands on several issues including the continuous internet gag. While six protesting PDP leaders were detained by police and released later, the party leaders say they are being approached by people on a daily basis, apprising them of the problems arising out of high speed internet suspension. “We tried raising the genuine demands of  the people which they face due to internet suspension but were not even allowed to hold a peaceful protest,” said PDP general secretary Ghulam Nabi Lone Hanjura. “It is high time that 4G is restored and we will continue raising our voice for it,” Hanjura added.

It may be recalled that despite authorities stating that suspension of 4G internet is related to “law and order problems”, Jammu and Kashmir administration in July led by then Lieutenant Governor G C Murmu had told the Union Home Ministry that “it did not have any objection in restoring 4G internet service” asserting that high speed internet connection would not pose any problems. Despite this, internet remains restricted to 2G taking a toll on daily life.

Senior Congress leader Saifuddin Soz said the continuous suspension of 4G internet was the “result of wrong policies of the central government in handling Jammu and Kashmir.” Soz said as there are restrictions on his free movement, there are “limited platforms to raise the issue of restoration of 4G service”. Soz recalled that last year amid complete communication gag “I used to send handwritten notes for communication to people living in different parts.”

“The 4G internet suspension is one of the tools of punishment given to people here. This is one of the wrong policies which are making government groping in the dark. It doesn’t realise that they have to talk to the people of Kashmir for which providing the masses with tools of communication is important,” Soz said. “New Delhi looks at Kashmir only through security prism ignoring the fact that basic need such as high speed internet is vital for the local economy which the government fails to realise,” Soz said.

However, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) J&K general secretary Ashok Kaul said the suspension of 4G by the authorities “was only after they were compelled due to its misuse by certain elements.”

“It is unfortunate that some elements have been misusing a utility such as the internet for which all of us have to bear the brunt. Government is not doing it intentionally and I am sure the policies regulating the usage of the internet are in the right direction,” Kaul said. However, Kaul said he was hopeful that “a conducive atmosphere is created so that authorities restore 4G internet service in maximum number of districts.”