The Supreme Court sought the Central government‘s response today, in a plea seeking initiation of contempt proceedings against the authorities related to the suspension of internet services in Jammu & Kashmir. No notice was issued in the matter.
The contempt petition filed by Foundation for Media Professionals (FMP)was heard by the three-judge Special Bench of Justices NV Ramana, R Subhash Reddy, and BR Gavai in regards to the authorities’ failure to constitute a Special Committee to review the ban on 4G internet in Jammu & Kashmir in accordance with an earlier order of the Supreme Court.
The Court remarked at theAttorney General for India KK Venugopal and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta when the submissions on behalf of the petitioner were made by Senior Counsel Huzefa Ahmadithat if decisions pertained to the internet speed restrictions are taken by the designated committee, the same need to be placed in public domain.
“If you have complied with the orders given in May, then it is needed to be published in public domain.”Supreme Court
The petitioners have raised the contention that there is no information available in the public domain as regards setting up of the review committee, as was directed by the Court earlier in seeking initiation of contempt proceedings against the government.
The Court was informed by SG Mehta that not only has the committee been set up, decisions have also been taken and reviewed.
Solicitor General‘s submissions were countered and argued by Ahmadithat between the May order passing of the Supreme Courtseveral orders for suspension of internet services in the region were passed was passed at the time of filing the instant plea. No response has been received by the concerned authorities in representations made by the aggrieved persons against internet suspension orders.
Ahmadi stated in case of Jammu & Kashmir ,
“Our complaint is that they are not responding to representations being filed against suspension of services, and orders are not being published so how can one challenge it before a Court… The people of Jammu & Kashmir continue to suffer, medical facilities continue to suffer, and children cannot take online classes. What the entire country enjoys, only this region cannot… this infringes upon their Article 21 rights.”
The question of contempt does not arise, as the committee in question has already been set up, responded the AG KKVenugopal.
“How can there be contempt if committee has already been put in place?”AG Venugopal
The details of the committee were not in the public domain, and the government was asked to file its counter affidavit on the plea by the Court.
The Court refused, despite Ahmadi’s request for issuance of notice in the plea. But, granted thegovernment to file its counter within a week’s time.
The Supreme Court in its 11 May judgement had directed that a “Special Committee” should be constituted“immediately” to determine the necessity of continued restriction of mobile internet speeds in Jammu & Kashmir to 2G only.
No information regarding the formation of the committee is in the public domain and that the government must explain its stand on non-compliance with the Supreme Court order, the petitioner stated.
The Court while declining to order restoration of 4G services in Jammu & Kashmir had then said that a “Special Committee”, which is separate from the Review Committee prescribed under the Temporary Telecom Suspension Rules 2017, was necessary in regard to the gravity of the matter.
“We are of the view that since the issues involved, affect the state, and the nation, the Review Committee which consists of only state level officers, may not be in a position to satisfactorily address all the issues raised. We, therefore, find 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 Jammu & Kashmir administration extended the internet curbs thrice – on May 27, June 17 and July 8 – citing the threat of cross-border terrorism, after the Supreme Court’s stance. Claim that 2G internet speed has not caused any impediment to COVID-19 control steps, online education or e-commerce was held by the Administration.
From August 5 in the wake of the abrogation of Article 370, the internet suspension remained in J&K.
In August 2019, right after abrogation of Article 370, the Central government had imposed a complete communications blackout in the erstwhile state of J&K. In January 2020, on the basis of a Supreme Court order, the services were partially restored only at 2G speed for mobile users, social media was completely blocked and access was provided only to a selected “white-listed” sites.