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Cellphone curbs in Kashmir may be relaxed in phases

The Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) administration is considering lifting the mobile telephony blackout in the state in phases, and may reactivate voice calls on post-paid connections soon, according to two senior government officials who asked not to be named.

The move will be discussed in a meeting on Saturday, when officials are also likely to take a decision on the release of some political leaders. Around 800 people, mostly political activists, are under detention and mobile connections have been disabled over fears of violence since the night of August 4 — hours before the Union government stripped J&K of its special constitutional status.

Security agencies have conveyed that the restoration of mobile phones in a phased manner will not affect the law-and-order situation. “In addition, the government can shut down the network if need be,” one of the officials cited above said. A second official elaborated on the possibility: “Post-paid mobile connections are likely to be restored first, followed by pre-paid connections.”

The clampdown on internet services, including mobile data, will remain, the officials said. They added that the curbs will not be lifted for now in sensitive areas spread across 10 police station zones.

Jammu & Kashmir has about 600,000 mobile phones connections. In the second week of September, mobile connectivity was restored in Jammu but was subsequently withdrawn because of alleged rumour-mongering. Mobile phones of officials critical to maintaining law-and-order have been functioning since then.

On Thursday, the administration allowed three mid-level political leaders to be released.

On October 7, a group of lawmakers in United States urged India to lift the restrictions, saying: “India’s communication blackout in Kashmir is having a devastating impact on the lives and welfare of everyday Kashmiris… It’s time for India to lift these restrictions and afford Kashmiris the same rights and privileges as any other Indian citizen.” Similar demands have been made by leaders in Germany and the United Kingdom.

In all, 850 companies of paramilitary forces, in addition to the usual deployment of the Indian Army and J&K Police personnel, are manning a near-unprecedented arrangement meant to ensure calm following the effective abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution.

A single paramilitary company comprises 100-120 personnel.

Officials said that mobile phones were restricted to prevent rumours through social media, incidents of stone-throwing, and attacks on security forces. “There haven’t been any major incident since August 5, there have been no deaths because of the agitations as well,” the second senior official quoted above said, and added: “it is a considered decision to relax curbs on telecom connectivity.”

On October 2, the J&K administration decided that an advisory asking tourists to leave the region would be withdrawn – the order came into effect on October 10.

“Easing restriction in a phased manner has been done in the past and makes perfect sense. This year’s apple crop in J&K is good and that’s a good sign. There are signs of normalcy returning to the Valley which is very encouraging,” said retired Lieutenant General Rakesh Sharma, who has served in Jammu & Kashmir. “Once mobile restrictions are eased, there could be violence in some pockets and commanders must be careful. Things should not be allowed to go out of hand,” he added.

First Published:
Oct 12, 2019 01:06 IST

Source: HindustanTimes