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'Access To Justice A Fundamental Right': J&K HC Summons Home Secretary Over E-Connectivity Issues [Read Order]

Akshita Saxena
15 July 2020 6:33 AM GMT
Access To Justice A Fundamental Right: J&K HC Summons Home Secretary Over E-Connectivity Issues [Read Order]
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The Jammu and Kashmir High Court has summoned the Home Secretary of the J&K Government to apprise the court about the "impact of the restrictions on e-connectivity" of the courts.

The Court was hearing a suo moto case concerning the urgent issues involving rights of the residents of the Union Territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh.

The "extreme difficulty" in hearing the counsels prompted the division bench comprised of Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Sanjay Dhar to require the Home Secretary's presence in the court through video conferencing on July 16, 2020.

"Access to justice is a fundamental right and cannot be impeded. It has to be ensured to every citizen and courts are required to remain accessible," the bench remarked while stating that despite best efforts on the part of the High Court IT Team, it had been impossible for the Court to have even a "bare semblance of a hearing".

The HC has been compelled to hold virtual hearings given the spike in Covid cases. 

"We have struggled to have virtual/or audio connectivity with the amicus curiae and the several counsels appearing before us. Even the learned Advocate General has expressed grave difficulty in joining the hearing," the bench recorded in its order.

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 in the case Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India which found Internet shutdown illegal, the services were partially restored, only at 2G speed for mobile users in January, 2020.

This is not the first time that the J&K High Court has sought reports on e-connectivity issues. In April this year, the High Court had sought status report on the issue of restoration of 4G internet services in the valley. However, the issue was closed without adjudication as the bench noted that the Top Court was already seized with this matter.

So far as proceedings before the Supreme Court are concerned, it had, on May 11 (Foundation for Media Professionals v. Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir & Anr.), directed the Centre to constitute a "Special Committee" headed by the Secretary of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, to undertake a review of connectivity restrictions imposed by the authorities and to examine the issues that had been raised by the Petitioners in a plea which sought for restoration of 4G speed internet services in the UT.

Significantly, the said order remains only on paper as the Government has not formed a Special Committee till date and a contempt petition against non-compliance of the direction is pending before the Top Court.

Notwithstanding the aforesaid, the Jammu and Kashmir Administration has extended the restrictions on internet speed till 29th July, stating that it was necessary to continue the restrictions on internet speed as high-speed net was likely to be used for "uploading/downloading/circulation of provocative content on the social media" and would aid in recruitment of "gullible youth into the terrorist ranks", amongst other things.

Case Details:

Case Title: Court on its Own Motion v. Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir

Case No.: WP(C) PIL no. 5/2020

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