NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court of India on Monday refused to restore 4G internet connectivity in Jammu and Kashmir but instead ordered the central government and UT administration to form a committee to take a call after reviewing the ground security situation.
The local administration in J&K, which is ruled directly from New Delhi, is opposed to the restoration of 4G services in Kashmir.
During the hearing, J&K administration had informed the Supreme Court that the internet speed has been reduced in the Union Territory to protect the sovereignty, integrity, and security of the country.
The Supreme Court has now directed the setting up of a committee to be headed by the Secretary, Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), and comprising of the Secretary, Communications and the Chief Secretary of the Jammu & Kashmir administration, to take a call on the issue. With this direction, the court disposed of a batch of petitions challenging the imposition of restrictions on internet in Kashmir, legal news website Barandbench.com reported.
While passing its order, The Bench of Justices NV Ramana, Subhash Reddy and BR Gavai expressed a need to ensure balance between national security as well as human rights of people in the region.
The petitioners had submitted that the slow internet speed in Kashmir, as opposed to 4G speed available in the rest of the country, hampered the “Right to education” and “Right to healthcare” amid raging coronavirus pandemic in the region.
During the hearing, the government cited grounds of national security for the move to snap 4G internet in Kashmir.
NGO ‘Foundation For Media’ Professionals had filed a PIL seeking restoration of 4G services in Jammu & Kashmir and later the Private Schools Association of Jammu & Kashmir, an umbrella body of over 2,200 private schools across the region, challenged a series of government orders passed since January 18, 2020, restricting internet speed in Kashmir.
Another plea by Advocate Soayib Qureshi arguing as petitioner-in-person stated that if security is an issue, then social media sites can be restricted.
On April 27 this year, the Jammu & Kashmir administration had notified that presently prevailing internet access restrictions will continue to remain in force until May 11.
On April 30, the J&K administration had told Supreme Court that right to internet access is not a fundamental right and the state can curtail the freedom of speech and right to trade through internet.
The administration opposed the restoration of 4G services, saying a very reasonable quantum of restrictions have been imposed by reducing the speed of internet to protect the sovereignty, integrity and security of the country.
However, Senior Advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, arguing for Foundation for Media Professionals, asserted that the 2G internet speed was infringing upon the Right to Healthcare of citizens and was leaving doctors without access to technology needed to combat COVID-19. He said, “In J&K, as on today there are 701 COVID-19 cases and 8 deaths. When this petition was filed there were about 33 cases. Today it has escalated. 4G restriction has led to problems being faced by doctors who cannot access information about COVID treatment which is extremely necessary. Almost 75 doctors have also made a representation to the J&K govt flagging the same concerns”.
In its reply to the petitions seeking faster internet connectivity, the government had replied stating that the “Right to access internet is not a fundamental right” and that the “Right to carry on trade and profession through internet can be curtailed.”
Senior Advocate Ahmadi contended that students from J&K have to compete with students from across the country but could not do so, as “video conferencing was useless for them.”
Senior Advocate Salman Khurshid, appearing for one of the petitioners, had argued that private schools are under government directions to provide education via video-conferencing. “We have an obligation under Right to education to provide education,” said Khurshid.
However, the J&K government argued that the primary concern on which the internet speed restrictions were put in place was security. Attorney General KK Venugopal submitted that a faster internet speed like that of 4G would give the enemy information even about the “troop movements.”