Srinagar: After a record 24-week-long ban, the Jammu and Kashmir government on Saturday ordered the restoration of prepaid mobile phone services in Kashmir Valley as well as 2G mobile data services on post-paid mobiles for accessing “white-listed” sites in two districts of Kashmir region, and all 10 districts of Jammu region.
While 2G mobile Internet is being restored in two revenue districts of Kupwara and Bandipore, the service remains suspended in the remaining eight districts of the Valley — Srinagar, Budgam, Ganderbal, Baramulla, Anantnag, Kulgam, Shopian and Pulwama.
The government’s move to partially lift the restrictions imposed on mobile and Internet services comes eight days after the Supreme Court said that access to Internet is a fundamental right under Article 19 of the Constitution of India.
The websites that have been included the “white list” fall under 10 categories: mail (Gmail, Yahoo), e-banking (most prominent banks), education, employment, entertainment, services, travel, utilities, weather, web services and automobiles.
The ban on social media access on mobile phones continues in Jammu’s 10 districts and the Valley’s frontier districts of Kupwara and Bandipore.
“Voice and SMS facility on all local pre-paid SIM cards across the Union Territory of J&K shall be restored today (Saturday),” the government spokesman Rohit Kansal said at a press conference in the winter capital, Jammu.
He said that companies engaged in software services are being provided fixed line Internet connectivity by the service providers, but they must exercise caution that these don’t get used to access social media and other sites not falling in the “white list” prepared by the government.
2G mobile data services on the post-paid mobiles for accessing “white-listed” sites have been restored in all the 10 districts of Jammu division.
On January 15, the government had announced the restoration of 2G mobile connectivity on post-paid mobiles in Jammu region’s five districts — Jammu, Samba, Kathua, Udhampur and Reasi — only for accessing “white listed” websites.
Mr Kansal reiterated on Saturday that the restriction on social media will continue in Jammu’s 10 districts and the Valley’s frontier districts of Kupwara and Bandipore.
“The 2G mobile Internet shall be restored also in the revenue districts of Kupwara and Bandipore of Kashmir. The service will, however, remain suspended in eight remaining districts of the Valley — Srinagar, Budgam, Ganderbal, Baramulla, Anantnag, Kulgam, Shopian and Pulwama,” he said.
The government had earlier allowed broadband facilities to all institutions providing essential services such as hospitals, banks, government offices, trade, tourism and travel in the Valley.
Mr Kansal, who is also principal secretary (planning), said that the competent authority has released a list of all 153 websites in the “white list” category that can be accessed through 2G mobile data services. The “white-listed” websites include four email services, including Gmail and Outlook, 15 banking websites including RBI, J&K Bank, PayPal and Western Union.
Official sources said that any violation of these directions would be viewed seriously and service providers as well as subscribers may face action in the event of deviating from these.
Service providers have been told to keep a tight lid on social media websites and ensure that subscribers are not able to access these sites via mobile Internet.
Mr Kansal said that telecom service providers have been asked to initiate the process for verification of credentials of pre-paid SIM cardholders to consider provision of mobile Internet connectivity as per the norms applicable for post-paid connections. “Telecom operators are being issued instructions to operationalise these directions immediately while providing for all the safeguards detailed in the order”, he said and added, “The overall effort of the government is to facilitate and keep restrictions to the bare minimum based on the ground situation."
The SC had on January 10 said that access to Internet is a fundamental right under Article 19 of the Constitution of India and sought a review of the restrictions imposed ahead of the Centre’s move to strip J&K of its special status and splitting it into two Union Territories on August 5 last year. The top court had, while hearing petitions challenging the restrictions in the erstwhile state, termed the indefinite suspension of Internet services as “impermissible” and said that restrictions can “be temporary only”. However, it fell short of issuing an order for immediate restoration of Internet services.