SC refuses to order restoration of 4G services in J&K

Sets up high-powered committee to take decision based on district-wise threat perception

SC refuses to order restoration of 4G services in J&K

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 11

The Supreme Court, on Monday, refused to order the restoration of 4G mobile internet services in Jammu and Kashmir, but set up a special committee, led by the Union Home Secretary to take a call on the issue after factoring in the security situation on the ground.

Besides the Union Home Secretary, the Secretary of the Department of Telecommunication Secretary and Chief Secretary of J&K will be part of the panel, a three-judge Bench headed by Justice NV Ramana ordered.

“...since the issues involved affect the State, and the nation, the Review Committee (under Telecom Rules), which consists of only state-level officers, may not be in a position to satisfactorily address all issues raised,” it said justifying the setting up of the special committee.

“We do recognise that the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir has been plagued with militancy, which is required to be taken into consideration. These competing considerations need to calibrated in terms of our judgment (on the lockdown in J&K) in Anuradha Bhasin (case),” said the Bench which had reserved its judgement on May 4.

The Bench said: “It must be noted that the authorities have been taking steps towards easing of internet restrictions taking into account the prevailing circumstances.”

Internet speed has been restricted in Jammu and Kashmir for several months. The last order was issued on April 27 extending the restrictions till May 11.

Three petitioners, including the Foundation for Media Professionals and Private Schools Association of Jammu and Kashmir, had challenged the orders restricting the internet speed.

They had contended that 2G internet speed was not enough for access to online education and healthcare services during the COVID-19 lockdown.

The restrictions violated citizens’ Right to Education and the Right to Health, which were part of the Right to Life and Liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution, and went against the SC verdict in Anuradha Basin case that provided for safeguards against misuse of powers under the Telecom Rules, they argued.

“Although the present orders indicate that they have been passed for a limited period of time, the order does not provide any reasons to reflect that all the districts of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir require the imposition of such restrictions,” the top court noted.

It said the special committee must also examine the appropriateness of the alternatives suggested by the petitioners regarding limiting the restrictions to those areas where it was necessary and the allowing faster internet (3G or 4G) on a trial basis over certain geographical areas and advise the government on the issue in terms of its directions in Bhasin’s case.

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.

Faster 4G internet speed would give the enemy information even about troop movements, Attorney General KK Venugopal had submitted.

Earlier, in an affidavit filed in response to these petitions, the 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 could be curtailed in the interest of the “sovereignty”, “security” and “integrity” of India.

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