Ahmedabad/Srinagar, Jan 20: 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 Internet for "watching dirty films".
The comments defending the suspension of Internet drew strong reaction from trade bodies in Jammu and Kashmir which demanded his immediate removal for "maligning" the people of the Union Territory, while the Congress and the CPI(M) too hit out at Saraswat.
The NITI Aayog member 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," Saraswat told reporters on a query about suspension of Internet services in Jammu and Kashmir over five months ago when its special status was scrapped.
"If there is no internet in Kashmir, it does not have any significant effect on the economy," he said.
Taking to Twitter, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said it was "disappointing to see a member sitting at one of the top echelons of NITI Aayog uttering such words" , adding that it is useless to expect the revival of economy "from them", while CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury said Saraswat needs to read the Indian Constitution.
Asked about his remarks, Saraswat on Sunday claimed that he was "quoted out of context" and apologised if it has hurt the feelings of people of Kashmir or anybody else.
"During the conversation somebody talked about Kashmir and I said 'yes internet is required and I respect the feeling of all Kashmiris in this regard that they should be provided internet and agree with the fact that they should have the freedom'.
"But sometimes governments have to take action for maintaining law and order and security to shut down the internet for sometime. Then the conversation was over and we were talking about many other things. And from many other things, they picked up all this nonsense. I have been misquoted, I have been quoted wrongly and out of context," he told.
"I have also said that because of being misquoted by the media, if it has hurt the feelings of people of Kashmir or anybody for that matter, I apologise for that," he added.
Condemning Saraswat's remarks made in Gandhinagar, Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (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.
The president of Jammu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI), Rakesh Gupta, said Saraswat should resign on moral grounds for his "baseless" utterances "defaming" the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
"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," CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury tweeted while tagging Saraswat's remarks.
Speaking in Gandhinagar on Saturday, Saraswat had 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.
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.
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.