The Department Related Standing Committee on Information and Technology met on Tuesday under the chairmanship of Shashi Tharoor to discuss the blockage of internet in some parts of the country and the way forward for 5G. Telecom Secretary Anshu Prakash and other officers were present.
Sources said an argument took place between members of the opposition and the BJP over 4G internet not being available in Jammu and Kashmir since the last year since the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019.
While Tharoor read out the Supreme Court judgment from January that said internet access was essentially a fundamental right, BJP MP Nishikant Dubey countered him by saying that while the entire country got mobile phones in 1995, Jammu and Kashmir got them in 2003. Wasn't that a violation too, he argued Dubey.
While Tharoor and other Opposition MPs asked how India can be prepared for 5G when Jammu and Kashmir hasn't seen 4G for a year, Dubey argued it was wrong to say no 4G connectivity was available in the Union Territory. High-speed internet is slow but not banned, Dubey is said to have said, adding he was in the Valley last month and did not face a total internet ban.
Banning of internet in case of any major law and order issue was a call of the state, as first responders, with the opposition arguing that the Centre was the licensing authority. BJP MPs argued that in such a case, it is a state call as law and order is a state subject. Within five days, a committee will review the same. Members suggested that such a Committee must not have only bureaucrats but public representatives as well and must submit its report in a time-bound manner.
The Telecom Secretary said they would convey the concerns of the Committee to the Ministry of Home Affairs. The Committee also expressed its intent to summon chief secretary-level officers of some states, including Jammu and Kashmir, in the coming days.
Tejasvi Surya, Rajyavardhan Rathore and Mohua Moitra were among the MPs who attended the meeting.
Internet was suspended in J&K on August 5 last year when the Parliament passed a bill for abrogation of Article 370 scrapping the state's special status.
The Supreme Court intervention on the issue saw 2G mobile data restored in January.
The Centre informed the Supreme Court on Tuesday that it has decided to provide 4G services on trial basis in limited areas of the Union Territory after August 15. A bench headed by Justice NV Ramana was informed by Attorney General KK Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, that the committee has decided to hold trials for high speed internet access in one district each in Jammu and Kashmir division.
The Committee decided that access to 4G internet in J&K be given in a calibrated manner and outcome of the trial will be reviewed after two months, he said, adding it considered multiple options while keeping in mind the security situation as the threat perception remained high.