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Tharoor, BJP MPs spar in Parliamentary IT panel meet on J&K net issue

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NEW DELHI: In the wake of Shashi Tharoor-led Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology repeatedly taking up the matter of suspension of internet services in Jammu and Kashmir, Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla has written to the Lok Sabha Secretary General expressing national security and the matter being sub-judice in the Supreme Court as the reasons for not sharing such sensitive information.

The Parliamentary committee met on Wednesday to discuss “Suspension of Telecom Services/internet and its impact” along with other issues. Officials from the Home Ministry and the Ministry of Telecommunications were present and were posed questions on why internet services were stopped in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir and have not been fully restored yet.

Sources said Tharoor, Karti Chidambaram and Syed Naseer Hussain asked the Home Ministry officials about why Telecom services and internet have not been restored in Jammu and Kashmir. Additional Secretary Govind Mohan and other officials cited national security as the main reason. They also suggested that the final call on this issue should be taken by the state administration. Jammu and Kashmir is under President’s Rule and Lt Governor Manoj Sinha heads the administration.

BJP members, led by Nishikant Dubey, objected to the issue being discussed as it was a sensitive matter concerning national security. Rajyavardhan Rathore, Anil Agarwal and Sanjay Seth backed Dubey.

Later, Dubey also wrote a strongly worded letter to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla in which he reiterated his demand for the removal of Tharoor as IT panel chairperson under Rule 255 of Rules of Procedure of the Lok Sabha. He has alleged that Tharoor is trying “to malign each and every organ of the government”.

This was the last meeting of the IT Standing Committee on the 4G spectrum issue and the matter of stopping internet services in Jammu and Kashmir, parts of Delhi and Bihar are not likely to be taken up in the future meetings.

Meanwhile, Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla has written to Lok Sabha Secretary General Snehlata Srivastava on the issue. In his letter, Bhalla has said that suspension of telecom services/internet is regulated by Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017, under which Home Secretary or Secretary in charge can issue directions for suspension of telecom services.

Bhalla said the ministry officials have been summoned by IT panel for the November 25 meeting specifically discuss Jammu and Kashmir but the ministry has nothing further to add to what it had stated in the October 16 meeting on this issue.

“….. considering the security scenario in UT of Jammu and Kashmir, disclosure of information relating to suspension of telecom services would be prejudicial to the safety or interest of the state,” Bhalla said. He maintained that the matter is also sub-judice in the Supreme Court.

The Home Secretary has cited Rule 270 of Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business of Lok Sabha which states, “government may decline to produce a document on the ground that its disclosure would be prejudicial to the safety or interest of the state.”

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