SC issues notice to the Jammu & Kashmir government in a plea seeking restoration of 4G speed for mobile internet services in the valley, amidst the Coronavirus outbreak

Approach of Art.136 Cannot Be Adopted While Deciding Petitions by The High Court Under Art.227: SC

A bench of Justices N V Ramana, R Subhash Reddy and B R Gavai of the Supreme Court of India asked the Centre and the Jammu and Kashmir administration on Thursday to respond to a plea seeking directions to them to restore 4G internet in the Union Territory because of the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic.

Prior Facts:

  • The authorities had earlier passed an order on March 26 restricting the internet speed in the Union Territory to 2G. The petition challenges this order as being violative of Articles 14, 19, 21, and 21A of the Constitution of India.
  • This government order was passed as a way of restoring internet facilities in Jammu & Kashmir after the decision to abrogate Article 370.
  • After the region’s status was changed and it was bifurcated into two Union Territories, all modes of communication remained suspended and were partially and gradually restored. It was only recently that mobile internet services, albeit restricted to 2G speed, were restored in J&K.

Key Features:

1. Supreme Court issued notices to them and sought their reply within a week on the plea filed by ‘Foundation for Media Professionals‘ which has assailed an order of the J&K administration on March 26 that restricted the internet speed to 2G only in the UT.

2. Senior advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, appearing for the petitioner, contended that because of the ongoing lockdown it is very necessary to enhance the technology and connectivity in the Union Territory.

3. He said that the virtual classes of students, whose schools are shut due to the lockdown, can only be done through enhancement of technology and better connectivity.

4. The plea filed through advocate Shadan Farasat, while seeking restoration of 4G internet services, alleged that the action of the government was violative of Articles 14 (right to equality), 19 (freedom of speech) and 21 (right to life) of the Constitution.

5. Terming 2G telephone services as ‘outdated‘, the plea said 4G internet speed would be useful in ensuring information flow to the citizens because of the coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic.

6. The plea said that “The advent of the COVID-19 global pandemic has fundamentally altered the existing situation. At present, the following facts exist: first, COVID-19 exists in India, and is a highly infectious and communicable disease.”

7. It added further to it that, “Research into its origins and the best ways of tackling this disease is ongoing, and there is a continuing flow of new information about how best to contain the fall out of the virus, and limit its spread and impact.”

8. The petitioner said that that he wanted to ensure the flow of information to citizens during these ‘extraordinary times when the number of cases of Coronavirus Disease (“COVID-19”) in Jammu and Kashmir has already reached 33, with 2 reported deaths’.

9. For the restriction over the mobile data speeds to 2G, it pointed out the following reasons as:

a. The guarantee of life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution of India includes the right to health; and it is the constitutional obligation of the State to provide – or at least, not to inhibit the provision of – the essential infrastructure that makes this right effective, and not reduce it to a nullity.

b. The right to health is a composite right which requires the state to take active measures to ensure the presence of necessary physical, and, by extension, digital, infrastructure, and a well-functioning internet, especially in times of an epidemic such as COVID19, is an essential part of this digital infrastructure that is required to make this right an effective reality

c. The slow internet speed also renders telemedicine or online video consultation impossible.

d. The right to internet connectivity has repeatedly been recognised by the Government of India as a basic necessity or an essential service to ensure the right to health and referred to the National Telecom Policy in support of its contention.

e. The impugned order has directly impacted the enjoyment of various other fundamental rights in the specific context of the ongoing lockdown. Restricted internet speeds are directly impacting the ability of children of Jammu & Kashmir to exercise their fundamental right to education, guaranteed under Article 21A of the Constitution since schools there are unable to shift their mode of instruction

Judgement:

The bench while issuing the notices to the centre said it is issuing notice which may be served through e-mail on the standing counsel of the Jammu and Kashmir administration and the Centre.

Reference:

  • Case of Foundation for Media Professionals vs. Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir & Anr., Public Interest Litigation filed under Article 32 of the Constitution of India in the Supreme Court of the India Advocate Shadan Farasat on March 29, 2020.

Edited by J. Madonna Jephi

Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje

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Vaibhav Goyal is a 3rd year BA.LLB (H) student of UILS, Panjab University, Chandigarh, India. He also basically belongs to the “City Beautiful-Chandigarh”. He had interned and have work experience at various Central and State Government bodies of India including the National Human Rights Commission, New Delhi; the Central Information Commission, New Delhi; U.T. Legal Services Authority, Chandigarh, etc. His research projects includes the study on the Right to Emergency Services (PSHRC), Resettlement of Migrant People (NHRC), Implications of RTI in Financial Institutions (CIC), etc. His publications involve articles in different fields of law like administrative, jurisprudence, etc. on online journals including the Juscholars Blog, Burnished Law Journal, etc. His research paper on Prison Reform was published in the Panjab University Journal and his paper was selected in category of best abstract on the topic of Naxalism: A State of Lawlessness and Arbitrariness. He had scored well in various competitions of law consisting of Quiz, Essay Writing, Lecture, Declamation, etc. He had also participated in various conferences including the World Law Forum Conference on Strategic Lawsuits on Public Participation held in New Delhi on Oct 20, 2018 and the National Law Conclave 2020 held at Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi on Jan 11, 2020.