Millennium Post

A sigh of relief

A sigh of relief

Following the Supreme Court's directive to review the longest ever internet shutdown in any democracy, the Jammu and Kashmir administration began restoring internet in the region yesterday. More than five months of the internet blackout imposed by the largest democracy over security reasons has seemingly reached its end. But the government order, while partially restoring broadband services for institutions, maintains that social media will continue to be restricted. Loosening the grip on internet access for government services such as e-banking, tickets, et al, baby steps by the government only speak of the latter's underlying apprehensions. Internet shutdown in the region — a precautionary measure by the Central government following its decision to abrogate Kashmir's special status — has been bad for the local economy. With sectors like tourism — forming the bulk of Valley's economy — reeling under an adverse situation of no internet, depriving the region of the fundamental right has made government's developmental agenda take an unintentional backseat. In the guise of "precautionary measure", the government completely ignored the ramifications of such a shutdown. Internet forms the backbone of businesses such as e-commerce, travel and tourism, handicrafts, etc. Bereft of internet, artisans and small businesses had to take the brunt of the measure, registering low revenues which inevitably made daily bread costlier. Some estimates have even put a mark of more than $1.3 billion in losses due to the internet blackout. In such dire circumstances, the apex court's order last Friday that internet access is protected under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution serves as a balm. Though the top court only ordered a review of the pertaining shutdown, urging the government to bring all orders vis-à-vis restrictions in public domain, easing of restrictions shows how much even that means in the current atmosphere. India's pre-emptive measure to maintain law and order cannot be forever, especially when it already has a large fraction of the country's army stationed in the region; in addition to the strong presence of all security establishments. The court hailed that "suspension of free movement, Internet and basic freedoms cannot be an arbitrary exercise of power". But the continued restriction of social media does not fit the bill. Social media is very much a platform of expression. A total restoration of access to the internet will be the true adherence to the Supreme Court's observation as well as democracy itself.

The government can very well place future restrictions but the Supreme Court's order ensures that such restrictions are subject to judicial scrutiny, and that is definitely welcoming on Valley's part. At some point, the Jammu and Kashmir administration will have to lift all restrictions, allowing complete internet access to the region. They cannot continue with the clampdown forever. In its abrogation reasoning, the Central government had ardently argued how Article 370 was antithetical to the erstwhile state's development. It argued that for Kashmir's true integration to the Union, special status must be repealed. And, so it was repealed but the decision placed a perpetual internet blackout upon the state as a precautionary measure so that the Valley does not erupt in violence due to miscreants spreading hate and inciting violence. But five months down the decision, it is crucial for the government to ask itself if it can bring true development to the state while keeping it bereft of internet. True integration is not subjective and includes all aspects which then should mean that the Central government has to treat Kashmir like other states of the Union; no arbitrary restrictions. J&K administration's steps to restore internet coincides with this pledge and makes local residents hopeful of the normalcy they have been living without. As their cellphones and laptops/desktops resume internet access, the region can resume business but it has to catch up to the lost time.

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