The decision of the Jammu and Kashmir government to restrict the speed of mobile internet as 2G amid the COVID-19 lockdown has been challenged in the Supreme Court.
A Public Interest Litigation filed by one Soayib Qureshi, a Kashmir-based lawyer, challenged the order issued by the Jammu and Kashmir administration on April 3 to retain the existing restrictions till April 15.
"The restriction on Internet Speed by the Respondent has pushed the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir in dark ages by restricting the use of internet which has not only hampered business activities, but has also impacted imparting of online education, online research and with it mode of communication and entertainment for people. The said restriction has been imposed without any reasonable basis and without disclosing any cogent reason", the plea stated.
In the order issued on April 3, the J&K Home Secretary had observed that the speed restrictions have not not posed any hindrance to "COVID-19 control measures or to access online educational content".
Countering this claim, the PIL stated that the speed restrictions on internet during the lockdown period has brought "life of commercial and educational institutions to a standstill".
"Once access to Internet has been allowed, putting a restraint on the speed amounts to virtually taking back the benefits of Internet which also amounts to suspending internet in perpetuity, which is impermissible. The restriction on speed has no reasonable nexus with the object the Respondent is seeking to achieve. Presently, there is neither a public emergency in place nor any emergency has been declared, hence, the imposition of restraints on speed is completely illegal", the plea stated.
The petitioner further stated that 2G is an out-dated technology and considering the speed and the data with which an internet site downloads, the right to internet becomes redundant due to the restrictions.
The Home Secretary had also stated that the the recent changes in J&K domicile law has the potential to be exploited by those "inimical to public peace". It was also stated that there have been major recovery of arms on one hand and killings of civilians by terrorists on the other, apart from attempts to "encourage terrorism through uploading of provocative material".
In this connection, the petitioner argued that the 2G speed restriction fails the test of proportionality as explained by the SC in the case Anuradha Bhasin v Union of India.
"The imposition of restriction on internet speed amounts to virtually denying the inhabitants of Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir right to Internet which has been accepted by the Hon'ble Kerela High Court, in the case of Faheema Shirin R.K v. State of Kerala as a Fundamental Right and held by Hon'ble Supreme Court of India in Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India to be constitutionally protected", the petitioner argued.
The petitioner therefore sought removal of all speed restrictions on internet in J&K, and to quash the orders issued by the J&K administration in that regard.
Another petition was filed in the Supreme Court on April 2 seeking restoration of 4G mobile services in the area during the period of lockdown.
At 2G mobile internet speeds, the patients, doctors, and the general public of Jammu & Kashmir are unable to access the latest information, guidelines, advisories, and restrictions about COVID19 that are being made available and continuously updated online on a daily basis, stated that plea filed by "Foundation of Media Professionals".
The petitioner asserted that doctors are not able to access online resources on measures to curb COVID-19 at all, due to the internet speed being too slow to download heavy files. Further it was averred that slow internet speeds rendered "telemedicine" or online video consultation impossible. The petition stated that restoration of full-fledged internet services is also crucial to strictly implement the "work from home" policy being promoted by the government.
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 , the services were partially restored, only at 2G speed for mobile users. Access was provided only to a selected "white-listed" sites, and social media was completely blocked.
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 blockade on social media was lifted on March 4, but the speed was retained as 2G for mobile data.