Shashi Tharoor and Speaker of Parliament at loggerheads over the ban on high-speed Internet in Kashmir

Published : August 30, 2020 16:34 IST

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor (left) and Speaker of Parliament Om Birla. Photo: PTI

The row over a parliamentary panel dropping from its agenda a discussion on the ban on high-speed Internet in Kashmir is refusing to die down. Shashi Tharoor, who heads the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, has apparently written to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, saying that the committee is at liberty to discuss the issue of telecom and Internet connection in Jammu and Kashmir.

Earlier, the issue was excluded from the agenda of debate as there was a perception that the matter was sub-judice. Birla had written a letter to the heads of various standing committees on August 25, advising them to refrain from taking up issues that were sub-judice. “The committees should give due consideration to Rule 270 and other necessary rules and directions while selecting subjects for examination,” Birla’s letter stated, according to excerpts published in an English daily. “In addition, I would like to point out that as per convention, the committees do not take those subjects for examination where the issue is pending in the courts,” said Birla in the letter.

The panel was originally scheduled to hear testimonies from Home Ministry and telecommunications officials and representatives from Bihar, Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir on September 1. It is learnt that shortly after Birla wrote to the panel heads, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Nishikant Dubey wrote to Tharoor asking him to cancel the meeting since the agenda was in contravention of the rules.

Following the Speaker’s intervention, the agenda of the Standing Committee on Information Technology was limited to Bihar and Delhi on August 28. The changed agenda read thus: “To take evidence of the representatives of the DoT [Department of Telecommunications], MHA [Ministry of Home Affairs] and the representatives of Bihar and Delhi on the subject of suspension of telecom services, Internet and its impact.”

However, Tharoor is learnt to have explained to the Speaker that the issue of high-speed Internet ban was not sub-judice. He pointed out that the Supreme Court had ordered the constitution of a special committee to “immediately determine the necessity of the continuation of limiting mobile Internet to 2G speed in the region”.

The court, while rejecting the plea for restoration of 4G Internet in Jammu and Kashmir, said that the task of the said committee would be to “also examine the appropriateness of the alternatives suggested by the Petitioners, regarding limiting the restrictions to those areas where it is necessary and the allowing of faster Internet (3G or 4G) on a trial basis over certain geographical areas”.

On August 16, 4G Internet service was restored on a trial basis in Ganderbal district of North Kashmir and in Udhampur in the Jammu region.

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