SC Reserves Order On Pleas Seeking 4G In J&K

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Srinagar: The Supreme Court on Monday reserved order on three petitions, seeking restoration of 4G internet connectivity services in Jammu and Kashmir.
The internet services were suspended in J&K in August last year after the abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcation of the erstwhile state into two Union Territories of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir.
“Arguments concluded. Order reserved,” said a bench, headed by Justice N V Ramana, and comprising Justices R Subhash Reddy and B R Gavai.
The government of India and the Jammu and Kashmir administration justified the restriction on 4G service, saying high speed internet may be used for sending information about troop movement, and referred to Sunday’s deaths of security personnel in an encounter with militants at Handwara in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district.
The submissions of the GoI and the J&K were opposed by senior lawyers Salman Khurshid and Huzefa Ahmadi who were representing parties, seeking restoration of 4G, on grounds such as right to access doctors is an inherent under article 21 (Right to Life) of the Constitution and it’s deprivation should be judged in view of the Covid-19 pandemic.
They also stressed that the right of children to access schools through the high speed internet service have been hampered.
The bench heard arguments of both sides including that of Attorney General K K Venugopal and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for the GoI and the Union Territory respectively, and reserved the verdict.
The apex court said it has to deal with the legal question of ensuring balance in view of health and security concerns raised by the petitioners and the governments.
In an affidavit, the J&K administration told the apex court that “a very reasonable quantum of restrictions” has been imposed by reducing the internet speed to “protect the sovereignty, integrity and security of the country.”
It said there were well-founded apprehensions of misuse of internet for the propagation of militant activities and incitement through the circulation of inflammatory material as also coordination of activities that are inimical to security and public order.
The J&K government has also stated that 2G internet was “sufficient” to download e-learning apps and to browse video lectures.
It also contended that the right to access the internet is not a fundamental right and the right to carry on any trade or business through the medium of internet can be curtailed.
The affidavit was filed by the Principal Secretary to the Government, Home Department, in a batch of petitions challenging the J&K’s order, restricting the speed to only 2G. The lead petitioner in the matter is the Foundation for Media Professionals, an NGO. The other two petitions have been filed by Private Schools Association J and K and one individual Soayib Qureshi who was allowed to appear and argue¬-in-¬person by the court on 24 April last.
“Right to access the internet is not a fundamental right and thus the type and breadth of access for exercising the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) and/or to carry on any trade or business under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India (CoI) through the medium of internet can be curtailed. It is submitted that the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, public order or incitement to an offence, would certainly warrant curtailing the freedom of speech and expression, under Article 19(2),” it reads as per reports.
Similarly, the government has added that the “right to carry on any trade or business can be restricted in the interest of the general public under Article 19(6) of our Constitution.”
“These rights under Article 19(1) (a) and (g) cannot be said to be curtailed by reduction in the speed of the internet, as has been alleged by the petitioner in the petition/application under reply,” it adds.


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