Voice calls and short messaging service (SMS) facilities, which were suspended in August last year before the abrogation of Article 370, will be restored for prepaid mobile connection users in Jammu and Kashmir, a government spokesperson said on Saturday.
The Centre had enforced a complete communication clampdown in the region a day before it withdrew the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and divided it into two Union territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh on August 5.
The government has gradually restored phone lines, but internet services and prepaid mobile services had remained suspended. While landlines were restored between mid-August and September, postpaid mobile services were back on October 14.
Mobile internet services were restored in Kargil, a part of the Union territory of Ladakh, in the last week of December. And, SMS on all mobile phones and broadband internet services were restored in government-run hospitals from January 1.
"Barely four days ago, I had spoken and briefed in detail about enhancements in access and communication facilities and further facilitation being provided in Kashmir and Jammu divisions," principal secretary Rohit Kansal said at a press conference.
"It was also clarified that the overall effort shall be to facilitate and to keep restrictions to the bare minimum based on the ground situation," he said.
"Consistent with this philosophy and after a careful review the competent authority ordered today that voice and SMS facility shall be restored on all local pre-paid SIM cards across the Union territory of J&K," he said.
The latest decision of the government has come a week after the Supreme Court ordered the Jammu and Kashmir administration to review internet curbs and said access to the internet was a fundamental right.
The top court had given a week's time to the administration to review the curbs.
Kansal said telecom service providers will initiate the process of verifying the credentials of these users as per available norms for post-paid subscribers.
He also announced that internet service providers, both BSNL and private companies, will provide fixed-line net connectivity with precautions as already directed to all the companies engaged in the software services sector.
Kansal also said 2G mobile data services on post-paid mobiles for accessing whitelisted sites shall be allowed in all the 10 districts of Jammu division and, to begin with, in the two revenue districts of Kupwara and Bandipora in Kashmir division.
"Mobile internet connectivity shall, however, remain suspended in Srinagar, Budgam, Ganderbal, Baramulla, Anantnag, Kulgam, Shopian and Pulwama," he said.
Service providers were being issued instructions to operationalise the directions immediately after providing all the safeguards detailed in the orders issued, he added.
Opposition parties have criticised the communication blockade but the Centre has maintained that it is committed to the development of Jammu and Kashmir, and Article 370 was nullified to usher in development in the region.
Central ministers' visit
Kansal also talked about the visit of 36 Union ministers to J&K this week from Saturday as part of a special public outreach programme and said that they will participate in 60 outreach programmes throughout the Union territory.
"The visiting ministers will interact with the people and speak to them on the overarching theme of development. The administration has decided that there will be 55 beneficiary- oriented schemes, which will receive 100% coverage for all eligible residents of Jammu and Kashmir," he said.
The focus will be on the implementation of Prime Minster's Development Package (PMDP), flagship schemes, iconic projects, good governance, rule of law, equal opportunities to all, rapid industrial and economic growth in all sectors with special focus on income enhancement for all, he said.