‘What difference does it make?’ Niti Aayog’s VK Saraswat defends internet shutdown in Jammu and Kashmir

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Published: January 19, 2020 7:56:49 PM

Internet services, landline and mobile phones were snapped across Jammu and Kashmir on the eve of Centre's announcement to scrap special status of the erstwhile state and its bifurcation into Union Territories on August 5.

NITI Aayog, V K Saraswat,  Article 370, internet shutdown, internet in kashmir, internet jammu, internet service, dirty moviesSaraswat made the controversial remarks in Gujarat’s Gandhinagar on Saturday after attending the convocation of the Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology. (IE)

NITI Aayog member V K Saraswat has courted controversy with his remarks that shutdown of Internet services in Jammu and Kashmir since the abrogation of Article 370 did not have any significant effect on its economy as people there only use the Internet for “watching dirty films”. The comments defending the suspension of the Internet in J-K drew strong reaction from trade body Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) which demanded his immediate removal for uttering “this nonsense”, while CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury also hit out at Saraswat, saying he needs to read the Indian Constitution.

Saraswat made the controversial remarks in Gujarat’s Gandhinagar on Saturday after attending the convocation of the Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology. “What difference does it make if there’s no internet there? What do you watch on internet there? What e-tailing is happening there? Besides watching dirty films, you do nothing there,” he told reporters on a query about suspension of Internet services in Jammu and Kashmir over five months ago following abrogation of its special status. “If there is no internet in Kashmir, it does not have any significant effect on the economy,” he said. He also said that internet services were suspended in Jammu and Kashmir to prevent certain elements from “misusing” information that could affect law and order situation there. “If Article 370 had to be removed, and if Kashmir had to be taken forward, we knew there were elements there which will misuse this kind of information in a manner that will affect the law and order situation,” he said.

Condemning Saraswat’s remarks, KCCI president Sheikh Ashiq said it is unbecoming of a person entrusted with serious responsibilities to make such statements that “malign the population of Kashmir”. Ashiq said the Valley is suffering due to the internet shutdown and the losses to the business sector here have amounted to over Rs 18,000 crore. “We at the Chamber know that our economy has been deeply affected by the suspension of internet services. Every sector of our economy has suffered a great deal. If any person says something like this, it speaks a volume about his mind capacity. He has no right to sit in the NITI Aayog,” he said. “We condemn these remarks. They are spreading venom against the people of Kashmir. Nobody gives him the right to speak like this about the people of Jammu and Kashmir and utter this nonsense against us,” he told PTI.

The KCCI recently submitted a detailed report about the business losses in the Kashmir valley to Lieutenant Governor G C Murmu and  Union minister of Commerce Piyush Goyal as well as MoS PMO Jitendra Singh. Ashiq said the Union Territory is going through a very difficult and challenging phase and people like Saraswat at the NITI Aayog can do no justice to Jammu and Kashmir and demanded his immediate sacking.

Internet services, landline and mobile phones were snapped across Jammu and Kashmir on the eve of Centre’s announcement to scrap special status of the erstwhile state and its bifurcation into Union Territories on August 5. While most of the services except mobile internet were restored in Jammu within a week, Kashmir witnessed restoration of landlines and postpaid mobile services and internet facilities to essential services like hospitals in phases.

On Saturday, the Jammu and Kashmir administration ordered the restoration of the prepaid mobile service in the Valley after over five months of suspension besides the 2G mobile data service on postpaid connections for accessing “whitelisted” sites across the Jammu division. 2G mobile data services on postpaid mobiles for accessing the whitelisted sites were resumed in only two districts — Kupwara and Bandipora  — in Kashmir.

The development came after the Supreme Court, in a significant ruling on January 10, asked the Jammu and Kashmir administration to review within a week all orders imposing curbs in the Union Territory. “This man is a member of the NITI Aayog. He needs to read the Indian Constitution to update himself, and can start with the Preamble. There are numerous anti-CAA/NRC protests in every town and city across the country, and he will easily come across the Preamble in them,” Yechury said on Twitter on Sunday while tagging Saraswat’s remarks.

On recent protests in Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Saraswat said the institution has become a “political battleground” with half of the teachers being “hardcore Leftists”. He called for the issues there to be resolved “democratically”. Saraswat also said that protests like those against the Citizenship Amendment Act and in the JNU affect the economy. “The losses are affecting the economy. We are giving people money, but there is no output from them. Government teachers are getting their dues despite the strike. What is the output… all this affects the economy,” he said.

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