The Bench of Justices NV Ramana, Subhash Reddy and BR Gavai had reserved orders in the pleas for restoration of 4G services in the Valley.
The Supreme Court directed the setting up of a High Powered Committee to address concerns surrounding the restrictions on 4G internet services in Jammu & Kashmir.With this direction, the Court disposed of a batch of petitions challenging the imposition of restrictions in the Valley.
This Committee will be headed by the Secretary, Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), and will also comprise the Secretary, Communications and the Chief Secretary of the Jammu & Kashmir administration.
The Court expressed a need to ensure balance between national security as well as human rights of people in the region.
“Special Committee shall be headed by the Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs (Home Secretary), Government of India. The Special Committee is directed to examine the contentions of, and the material placed herein by, the Petitioners as well as the Respondents. The aforesaid Committee must 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”.
The Supreme Court was first seized of the matter when NGO Foundation For Media Professionals had filed a PIL through Advocate Shadan Farasat seeking restoration of 4G services in Jammu & Kashmir.
Later, the Private Schools Association of Jammu & Kashmir, an umbrella body of over 2,200 private schools across the region, challenged a series of government orders passed since January 18, 2020, restricting internet speed in the newly created union territory. This plea was filed through Advocate Charu Ambwani.
Another plea by Advocate Soayib Qureshi arguing as petitioner-in-person stated that if security is an issue, then social media sites can be restricted.
Senior Advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, arguing for Foundation for Media Professionals, asserted that the 2G internet speed was infringing upon the Right to Healthcare of citizens and was leaving doctors without access to technology needed to combat COVID-19. He said,
“In J&K, as on today there are 701 COVID-19 cases and 8 deaths. When this petition was filed there were about 33 cases. Today it has escalated. 4G restriction has led to problems being faced by doctors who cannot access information about COVID treatment which is extremely necessary. Almost 75 doctors have also made a representation to the J&K govt flagging the same concerns.”
In its reply to the petitions seeking faster internet connectivity, the government had replied stating that the “Right to access internet is not a fundamental right” and that the “Right to carry on trade and profession through internet can be curtailed.”
Senior Advocate Salman Khurshid, appearing for one of the petitioners, had argued that private schools are under government directions to provide education via video-conferencing.
“We have an obligation under Right to education to provide education,” said Khurshid.
However, the J&K government argued that the primary concern on which the internet speed restrictions were put in place was security.