Tribune News Service
New Delhi, May 11
The Supreme Court on Monday denied the restoration of 4G mobile internet services in Jammu and Kashmir and ordered the setting up of a high-powered committee to decide on this after accounting for the situation on the ground.
The top court said the order on restricting bandwidth services in Jammu and Kashmir didn’t take into consideration the district-wise threat perception.
It ordered the committee to take into account the district-wise security situation and accordingly take a call on lifting or restricting the curbs, it said.
A three-judge Bench, headed by Justice NV Ramana, said the court had to ensure national security and human rights were balanced.
“We do recognize that UT has plunged into crisis,” said the top court.
At the same time court is cognizant to the concerns related to ongoing pandemic and hardships, it said.
In January, in the Anuradha Basin case, the apex court had said there should be adequate procedural safeguards.
Accordingly, it said, a committee of secretaries, comprising Centre and states, should be set up. The MHA Secretary, Secretary, Ministry of Communication and Chief Secretary of J-K will be a part of the panel.
The court ordered the committee to examine the contentions made by petitioners. The petitions had argued that 4G speed was essential for medical and educational services during the pandemic.
The committee will also examine the appropriateness of their contentions and the alternative remedy.
JK Admn had contended restoration would cause surge in terror activities
The Supreme Court had on May 4 reserved its order on petitions seeking restoration of 4G internet services in Jammu and Kashmir even as the administration sought to justify the restrictions citing prevailing security situation.
The top court had reserved its order after hearing lengthy arguments from Attorney General KK Venugopal and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta for the Centre and J&K Administration and senior advocates Huzefa Ahmadi and Salman Khurshid for the petitioners.
Citing a recent encounter in which five security personnel, including a Colonel, were killed in Kashmir, the J&K Administration had opposed the petitions, contending restoration of 4G internet services will lead to a further surge in terror activities.
There were three petitions on the issue, including one each by Foundation For Media Professionals and Private Schools Association of Jammu and Kashmir.
On April 27, restrictions on 4G internet speed were extended till May 11.
Earlier, in an affidavit filed in response to these petitions, J-K Administration had said reasonable restrictions were unavoidable given peculiar geopolitical situation.
Asserting that right to access the internet was not a fundamental right, the UT administration asserted it can be curtailed in the interest of the “sovereignty”, “security” and “integrity” of India.
On behalf of Foundation for Media Professionals, Ahmadi had contended that 2G internet speed was not enough for access to online education and healthcare services during COVID19 lockdown and the restriction violated citizens’ right to education and right to health which were part of the right to life and liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.
“Even Arogya Setu app can’t be downloaded and operated by people in the valley,” Ahmadi had said.
Contesting Ahmadi’s submissions, Mehta had asserted on behalf of J&K Administration that healthcare services were working.
“There are other areas in the country where there is either no internet or only 2G is available. There is no information that someone has died of COVID19 because they didn’t have internet access,” Mehta had said.
Khurshid had argued that private schools were under direction to provide education through video-conferencing but in the absence of 4G services, it was not possible.
Attorney General KK Venugopal had argued that faster 4G internet speed would give the enemy information even about troop movements.
“This is about the protection of lives of the entire population of J&K. Yesterday, there were some tragic events…The enemy could know the troop movements if they had 4G,” the AG had said.
Noting that there was no study to suggest such a possible connection, Ahmadi had submitted, “Most of the terrorist activities happened in J&K during the 1990s when there was no internet.”
The orders restricting internet speed went against the top court’s order in Anuradha Bhasin’s case as the orders were neither placed before a review committee nor made public, Ahmadi had contended.