Supreme Court: A 3-judge bench of NV Ramana, R. Subhash Reddy and BR Gavai, JJ has constituted a three-member committee to look into demand for allowing 4G mobile internet in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The order of the Court came in the plea seeking restoration of 4G internet services in Jammu and Kashmir claiming the 2G service available in the Union Territory is not sufficient for education and business purposes amid the ongoing coronavirus-induced lockdown.
Noticing that since the issues involved affect the State, and the nation, the Court was of the opinion that the Review Committee which consists of only State level officers, may not be in a position to satisfactorily address all the issues raised. It, hence, found it appropriate to constitute a Special Committee comprising of the following Secretaries at national, as well as State, level to look into the prevailing circumstances and immediately determine the necessity of the continuation of the restrictions in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
The Committee will consists of:
- The Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs (Home Secretary), Government of India. (Head of the Committee)
- The Secretary, Department of Communications, Ministry of Communications, Government of India.
- The Chief Secretary, Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
The Committee will not only examine the contentions of, and the material placed by both the parties but also examine the appropriateness of the alternatives suggested by the Petitioners, regarding limiting the restrictions to those areas where it is necessary and the allowing of faster internet (3G or 4G) on a trial basis over certain geographical areas and advise Centre regarding the same.
It is important to note that, 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 . While the 2G services on postpaid mobile phones and broadband have been restored, 4G services still remain suspended. While on one hand, the petitioners have argued that 4G speed was essential for healthcare, education, trade and business in the union territory during this hour of crisis due to coronavirus, the officials in Jammu and Kashmir, on the other hand, contended that restoration of 4G services could give rise to anti-national activities and militancy.
Attorney General KK Venugopal appearing for the Central government had earlier, told the Court that the orders that have been passed specifically stated that restrictions of internet speed are required for national security. Venugopal said that it’s about the protection of the lives of the entirety of the population of Jammu and Kashmir and not just the COVID-19 patients.
“Terrorists are being pushed into the country. Yesterday, there were some tragic events also. These men could easily take videos of the troop movements because they were trusted. The enemy could know the troop movements if they had 4G,”
The attorney general said that the petitions have to be examined against the larger public interest of national security, adding that national security is paramount and those tasked with protecting national security must be the sole judges in the matter.
“The matters of policy decision cannot be interfered with by the court. It must be left to the government,”
Lawyer Huzefa Ahmadi, appearing for one of the petitioners, told the court that the COVID-19 situation in J&K has worsened and added that problems are being faced by doctors who cannot access necessary information about coronavirus treatment due to the internet speed. 75 doctors have also made a representation flagging the same concerns.
Senior lawyer Salman Khurshid, appearing for another petitioner in the matter, said that private schools are under government directions to provide education
“We have an obligation under the Right to Education to provide education”
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said that the Central government had started with a complete lockdown and then brought in relaxations by allowing movement, followed by landline and then 2G internet services.
Taking note of all the arguments, the Court said that while it might be desirable and convenient to have better internet in the present circumstances, wherein there is a worldwide pandemic and a national lockdown, the fact that outside forces are trying to infiltrate the borders and destabilize the integrity of the nation, as well as cause incidents resulting in the death of innocent citizens and security forces every day cannot be ignored. However, considering that the authorities in the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir have selected the 2G speed to restrict the flow of information in order to prevent misuse of data by terrorists and their supporters to disturb the peace and tranquility of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, the Court, however, said,
“we do recognize that the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir has been plagued with militancy, which is required to be taken into consideration.”
The Court, hence, highlighted the observations made by it’s January order in Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 25, wherein it has said that for meaningful enforcement of the spirit of the judgment, inter alia, the authorities are required to pass orders with respect to only those areas, where there is absolute necessity of such restrictions to be imposed, after satisfying the directions passed earlier.
Though the Court agreed to it’s observation in Anuradha Bhasin judgment that the internet is being used to support fallacious proxy wars by raising money, recruiting and spreading propaganda/ideologies, it was also cognizant of the concerns relating to the ongoing pandemic and the hardships that may be faced by the citizens and that it might be desirable and convenient to have better internet in the present circumstances, wherein there is a worldwide pandemic and a national lockdown.
Terming the issue of restoration of 4G internet service in the valley as “a very important but a sensitive issue on national security and human rights”, the Court asked the Committee to take a balanced decision, keeping both aspects in mind.
[Foundations for Media Professionals v. Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 453, decided on 11.05.2020]