Another petition seeks 4G restoration barring areas with ‘security concerns’
Srinagar/New Delhi: Hearing two petitions seeking restoration of high-speed 4G internet in J&K, the Supreme Court Monday refused the government’s request for longer time to file a response and directed it to file individual reports in two petitions by Sunday, April 26.
A bench comprising Justices NV Ramana, R. Subhash Reddy and B.R. Gavai directed the Centre, represented by Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta and Attorney General (AG) KK Venugopal, to file their response on each of the petitions by Sunday. The matter was adjourned to Monday, April 27.
There are two petitions filed in the apex court seeking restoration of high-speed internet in J&K.
One of them has been filed by Private Schools Association Jammu and Kashmir (PSAJK) and another by an organisation called Foundation of Media Professionals (FMP).
While PSAJK is majorly concerned about how education is impacted due to the suspension of 4G internet, the FMP petition has challenged the government order restricting internet speed for being violative of Articles 14, 19, 21, and 21A of the Constitution of India.
Advocate Charu Ambwani and Soayib Quereshi appeared on behalf of PSAJK.
Ambwani submitted that more than 27 lakh students are unable to have access to education to which the Solicitor General (SG) questioned “whether all students have laptops”.
Senior Advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, appearing for FMP, said that not having 4G impacted three aspects: health, ailments and education.
She added that one could not consult a doctor with connectivity issues at large. “Can’t have online classes without 4G” stated Ahmadi.
At this juncture, AG pointed out that there is an ongoing issue of militancy in Jammu & Kashmir “which cannot be overlooked.”
The AG told the apex court that “there are serious issues in J&K and it’s a question of national security.”
“Recently a militant was killed and 500 people showed up for his funeral. SG sought more time to file affidavit,” news agency ANI reported the AG saying.
In light of this, Ahmadi contended that regarding the issue of national security in J&K, in areas where there is such a concern, connectivity could be restricted.
“However, the internet restrictions should not be extended to entire state,” she added.
The Supreme Court observed that the matter was of grave importance and refused the request of the government for a longer time to file response.
The bench directed the matter to be listed next week.
On April 9, the apex court had issued a notice on the petition filed FMP to the standing counsel of J&K via email, returnable within a week.
The Central government had imposed a complete communications blackout in the erstwhile state of J&K in August 2019, right after abrogation of Article 370. Five months later in January 2020, on the basis of a Supreme Court order which found Internet shutdown illegal, the services were partially restored, only at 2G speed for mobile users.
The Supreme Court had observed that indefinite suspension of internet is not permissible and restrictions on internet have to follow the principles of proportionality under Article 19(2).
The direction from the apex court on Tuesday come days after the J&K High Court on Friday asked the government to submit a report regarding lack of “efficient” internet facility in J&K and Ladakh by April 27.
The decision was made following Public Interest Litigations related to battling Covid-19 in the Union Territories. Hearing the PILs through video conferencing owing to the current situation, the Division Bench of Chief Justice Geeta Mittal and Rajesh Oswal directed, in regard to the matter related to the lack of “efficient” internet facility, directed the Secretary, Home Department of J&K and Ladakh to file the report on the same by the next date of hearing on April 27.
On April 15, the government extended the ban till April 27 citing that it “did not hinder” Covid-19 control measures. The region has faced a ban on 4G internet service for more than 250 days since August 5 last year after the abrogation of Article 370. (With inputs from Livelaw.in)