The Supreme Court on Monday issued directions to set up a high powered committee to look into concerns raised by petitioners about the restriction of 4G internet services in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
According to Bar and Bench, the committee will include the Secretary, Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the Secretary, Communications and the Chief Secretary of Jammu and Kashmir administration.
The committee will reportedly look into the contentions raised by the petitioners in court and an apex court bench headed by Justice N.V. Ramana, while hearing of the matter, mentioned the need for a balance between national security and the human rights of people from J&K.
The petitioners had said that the slow internet speed in the region was hampering the right to education and healthcare in the region at a time when 4G internet is available to the rest of the country. The move to suspend 4G services in J&K was done to ensure national security, according to the Centre.
The matter first came to the notice of the SC when Advocate Shadan Farasat sought restoration of the services in J&K through a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) on behalf of the NGO Foundation For Media Professionals. Following Farasat’s petition, the Private Schools Association of J&K had also challenged government orders since January 18, 2020, challenging internet speed restrictions in the state. It was followed by two other petitions and the SC has reportedly disposed of all the petitions in the matter today.
On April 27, the UT administration had said that the restrictions would continue till May 11. Three days later the Jammu and Kashmir administration, who opposed the restoration of 4G services, told the apex court that the right to internet was not a fundamental right and that the state could curtail freedoms of speech and the right to trade through the internet.
"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,” Advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, appearing in the case for the Foundation for Media Professionals reportedly told the court.
Ahmadi and senior advocate Salman Khurshid had also contended that the lack of internet services was hampering the education of children in the region with them unable to keep up with the rest of the country.
On May 4, 2020, the apex court had reserved its order after hearing arguments from all parties including the petitioners, Attorney General K.K. Venugopal and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.
The AG had reportedly said that the petitions needed to be examined while looking at the context of the larger public interest of national security.
Internet services had been suspended in the erstwhile state of J&K in August 2019 after the abrogation of Article 370 and its bifurcation into two Union Territories. As of now, 2G services have been restored but 4G services remain suspended.