Srinagar: National Conference (NC) president and Srinagar MP Farooq Abdullah Thursday requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to restore high-speed internet in Jammu & Kashmir in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a letter addressed to Modi, Abdullah cited the detection of Kashmir’s first COVID-19 case Wednesday and said high-speed internet was a necessity because authorities had locked down “large parts of the Valley”.
Internet speeds in the Valley have been restricted to 2G since connectivity was partially restored this January. The partial relief came after the Valley spent months without internet amid widespread restrictions imposed in August, when J&K’s special status was withdrawn and the erstwhile state bifurcated into two union territories.
“As you are aware, the first case of coronavirus has been detected in Kashmir yesterday which has resulted in authorities locking down large parts of the Valley,” Abdullah wrote.
“Businesses and students already hit hard by the shutdown after 5th of August are again suffering because of these restrictions,” he said. “The people are being advised to work/study from home, but this is impossible with 2G internet speed and limited fixed-line internet penetration. I would, therefore, request you to restore 4G internet services in Jammu and Kashmir at the earliest to ease the suffering of the people.”
Abdullah was released last week after spending seven months in detention.
‘Hope govt acts soon’
While Jammu has recorded three COVID-19 cases, Kashmir saw its first Wednesday. A woman in her 60s, who recently traveled from Saudi Arabia, was tested positive for the virus, prompting authorities to enforce restrictions in Srinagar.
“There will be restrictions on public transport, assembly of people and some other measures, in #Srinagar from tomorrow,” Srinagar deputy commissioner Shahid Iqbal Choudhary tweeted Wednesday night.
There will be restrictions on public transport, assembly of people and some other measures, in #Srinagar from tomorrow. Steps are being taken in view of a positive case detected. Further updates to follow. #Coronavirus
— Shahid Choudhary (@listenshahid) March 18, 2020
Although fixed-line internet services were restored in a phase-wise manner in Jammu and Ladakh by October, it was only restored in Kashmir, on phones, in January.
The government had initially allowed access to around 300 websites, but the number has now increased to 1,600. Social media was only restored earlier this month, when the government also lifted its bar on blacklisted websites and fixed-line internet.
However, the speed remains slow, a fact raised by several social media users, especially in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.
NC spokesperson Imran Dar told ThePrint that Abdullah “is aware of how people suffered during the communication blackout”.
“The suffering continued even when internet was restored but only few hundred websites were made accessible on 2G speeds. Dr Abdullah has kept himself updated about the situation and was of the view that it has been going on for too long,” he said.
“Given the threat of the disease, people need high-speed internet to be updated, to continue with their work, studies and trade,” he added. “Low internet speed makes all of this difficult. We are hoping the government of India acts soon.”
Peoples Conference leader Imran Ansari had also requested PM Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah to lift curbs on high-speed internet access on mobile phones. “It will certainly help people have better communication facility in present crisis,” Ansari tweeted last week.
A similar request was made from the Twitter handle of former chief minister and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti, who continues to be in detention, Tuesday. Her Twitter account is handled by her family.
World’s battling with Coronavirus but J&K admin still unrelenting & refuses to lift inhuman ban on 4G. In times of COVID pandemic, access to Internet & info is a necessity not a privilege. Are Kashmiri lives so cheap?
— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) March 17, 2020