"Internet Could Be Used To Propagate Modern Terrorism" : Govt. Of J&K Replies To Plea Seeking Restoration Of 4G At SC

Sanya Talwar

29 April 2020 11:28 AM GMT

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  • Internet Could Be Used To Propagate Modern Terrorism : Govt. Of J&K Replies To Plea Seeking Restoration Of 4G At SC

    The Government of Jammu & Kashmir has filed its reply to the plea seeking restoration of 4G internet connectivity in the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir as directed by the Top Court vide order dated April 9.Formulating a consolidated reply to similar/ identical petitions filed for the common prayer of restoration of 4G, it has been averred that since the Government Order of...

    The Government of Jammu & Kashmir has filed its reply to the plea seeking restoration of 4G internet connectivity in the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir as directed by the Top Court vide order dated April 9.

    Formulating a consolidated reply to similar/ identical petitions filed for the common prayer of restoration of 4G, it has been averred that since the Government Order of March 26 which had extended restrictions on connectivity to April 3 "no longer exists", the petitions filed thereto, assailing the G.O. have now been rendered infructuous.

    Further, the petitioner states that as a "sequel" to the G.O. had already been issued on April 3 as well, the interlocutory Application which challenged the aforementioned order is therefore infructuous.

    Reply avers that the contentions of "alleged deprivation of access to education, health care facilities/updates" are incorrect as the administration of J&K is "taking all possible steps to ensure minimum impact of COVID19 is felt".

    The Government has answered in its preliminary submissions that it is wary of the "constitutional" & "statutory obligations", in light of which it has been exercising powers under relevant statutes vis-à-vis The Indian Telegraph Act, 1885' and 'The Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services(Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017 (2017 Rules).

    "The orders issued, which are placed in public domain, are not only in consonance with the statutory mandate but also in conformity with the directions/guidelines laid down by this Hon'ble Court while imposing restrictions inter-alia, on mobile data/internet services" the reply states.

    Apropos this, the answering respondent, i.e. the Government of J&K submit that under Rule 2(6) of the 2017 Rules, the "misuse/abuse of exercise of power under such orders imposing restrictions" are reviewed within seven working days and due consideration is accorded to concerned stakeholders.

    "It is ensured that the restriction on access to internet is commensurate to the gravity of situation and accords with provisions of section 5 of the Telegraph Act" the Government avers in its reply.

    The reply goes on to justify the rationale of the imposition of restrictions in J&K. Government has averred that while enunciating restrictions, various aspects such as "public safety and interest" as well as the "principle of proportionality" , "extent of reasonibility of restriction", "available alternatives" and "incitement to any offence /security/sovereignty and integrity of India" are considered. 

    Law & order, internal security, circulation of inflammatory material, prevention of losses to human life, geographical proximity with Pakistan, among other things, have been emphasised by the Government in order to justify the imposition of restrictions.

    "It is pertinent to mention that the prayers prayed for by the petitioners and the present affidavit needs to be appreciated in light of the fat that since 1990, 41866 persons have lost their lives in 71038 incidents throughout the erstwhile State of J&K. This includes 14038 civilians, 5292 personnel of security forces and 22536 terrorists. These figures depict the nuances and emphasis the unavoidable requirement of reasonable restrictions given the very peculiar geo-political position of Jammu & Kashmir and its geographical proximity with Pakistan"

    Stating that the "Right to Access the internet is not a fundamental right" the reply elucidates that it can be curtailed if other Fundamental Rights are effectuated by access to internet such as Freedom of Speech & Expression or Right to Carry out business or trade in abrogation of the "sovereignty" & "security" & "integrity" of India which in turn, lawfully warrants curtailment.

    The reply contends,

    "this Hon'ble Court is pleased to accept in Anuradha Bhasin (supra) that the internet could be used to propagate terrorism thereby challenging the sovereignty and integrity of India and was also pleased to recognise that 'modern terrorism relies heavily on the internet"

    The Government has also emphasised that not lifting restrictions gradationally shall be detrimental to India as well as to the general public. 

    Reference to the allegedly ill-conceived discourse on social media & ongoing militancy have also been made stating that "Shadow handles, believed to have been "inspired" by/or at the behest of Pakistan Army try to allure people from Kashmir and living outside the country, to organize violent protests.... cross- border terrorism and violent activities carried out by the banned terror outfits like JeM, LeT, HM, operating with the external support are too well known. New outfits are being launched, like TRF and TMI, instigating the youth to join terrorism and there has been a spurt in terror activities in the last fortnight"

    Therefore, the Government has put forth that the rationale of further limiting internet speed are well-founded, keeping in mind the on-ground situation as well as the "material progress of people as a whole"

    Various instances of the advantages of restrictions on internet speed are also laid down.

    Having limited militant activities, the Government avers that miscreants using different VPNs were "not able to upload files of heavy data containing incriminating and other objectionable videos"

    Additionally, the Govt. of J&K states that especially at the time of a pandemic "a fixed-line connection is more appropriate" and clarifies that for any activity dependent on heavy network usage, broadband and fibe-rinternet connectivity is available.

    Furthermore, the reply contends that the Administration is spreading awareness & relevant information pertaining to the pandemic among the masses through various means such as by radio broadcasts, hoardings, video spots, pamphlets, handouts, panel discussions on TV etc.

    In reply to the hampering of educational facilities, the Government has submitted that though all educational institutions have been closed, teaching facilities are being provided to students largely through "offline mode" and to a very limited extent through online mode. Video lecture series, whatsapp groups chats, phone calls, dissemination of e-content NCERT, tele-classes, CD's, pen drives etc are thus being utilised.

    Pointing to the contention of the plea filed by Private Schools Association J&K vis-à-vis inaccessibility to education, the reply avers that a majority of students in J&K are studying in Government schools as compared to private schools, "who in fact, do not have mobile/smart phones or computers to access the internet".

    In this backdrop, the Government has claimed that all platforms such as Twitter, facebook, whatsapp can be effectively used by people of J&K to communicate shortage of any essential commodity.

    The Supreme Court had on April 9 issued notice in a plea filed by Foundation of Media Professionals seeking restoration of 4G mobile internet services in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir, in light of the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic.

    The matter was to be listed on April 27, incidentally, being the day of extinguishment of order imposing internet restrictions. 

    On April 27, the Government released an order extending restrictions on 4G internet speed till May 11.

    Earlier, April 3, the J&K administration had passed an order to retain the existing restrictions on mobile internet till April 15.

    The Central government had imposed a complete communications blackout in the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir 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, the services were partially restored, only at 2G speed for mobile users.

    The Supreme Court had thereupon observed that indefinite suspension of internet is "not permissible and restrictions on internet have to follow the principles of proportionality under Article 19(2)".

    Read the reply by Jammu and Kashmir Administration

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