National Conference leader Omar Abdullah’s observation — ‘better late than never’ — sums up the sentiment as the high-speed 4G mobile Internet services have been restored across Jammu and Kashmir after almost 18 months. Suspended on the eve of abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcation of the state into UTs in August 2019, access was allowed in two of the 20 districts, Ganderbal and Udhampur, on August 16 last year on a ‘trial basis’. Elsewhere, only 2G Internet services were available on mobile. The decision, as expected, has evoked a sense of relief; much delayed, but welcome nevertheless.
While the restoration of services is bound to make life easier and act as a confidence-building measure, why the citizens were subjected to such a prolonged restriction in the first place is a question that will continue to rankle. Even the havoc wreaked on lives and livelihoods by the Covid-19 pandemic had failed to move the authorities. The period saw repeated entreaties by trade organisations, commercial houses, school bodies, even the media fraternity, in the erstwhile state for restoration of services, as they cited losses and huge practical difficulties in conducting normal activities — be it trade, business or school classes — because of the slow Internet speed. There were also complaints of subscribers being charged regular tariffs despite the restricted services.
Lest we forget, Internet access being part of the fundamental right to freedom of speech was stressed by the Supreme Court itself, which also pointed out that suspension of free movement, Internet and basic freedoms cannot be an arbitrary exercise of power, and a complete ban on Internet must be considered only as an extraordinary measure. After the successful conduct of the DDC elections, the 4G restoration represents a fresh start. The trust deficit remains, but finally agreeing to a demand repeatedly put forth across several forums nationally and internationally signals a positive change. Jammu and Kashmir can do with more such outreach.