A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has been filed in the Supreme Court of India seeking restoration of internet and landline services across hospitals and medical establishments throughout Jammu and Kashmir.
The writ petition, filed by the Spokesperson of the National Conference, Dr. Sameer Kaul, highlights the adverse effects of the prolonged shutdown of internet services on health and medical services in the region. Stressing that it is the "top most priority of the government" to provide health and medical care in a welfare state, the petitioners submit that the shutdown enforced by the government has caused hindrance to the discharge of those very services.
The petition asserts that we live in an "age of digital India" where the provision of services, including that of medical services, are "fully dependent" on the availability of the internet, and when that channel is "snapped", services cannot be rendered effectively. Recalling that Jammu and Kashmir has witnessed over 180 internet shutdowns since 2012, the current situation is alluded to as an "unprecedented communication blockade", which has been in effect for more than a month and has seen fixed land line phone as well as mobile phone services being suspended from before the announcement of Art. 370 being abrogated.
It is further submitted that since it is established that the right to health and medical care is included as a part of the fundamental right to life, enshrined under Art. 21, the government is infringing upon fundamental rights by suspending internet facilities in these establishments. "Suspension of internet facilities to hospitals and medical establishments results in obstruction to and causes hindrance in smooth functioning of health and medical services. The Information and Communication Technology blackout in hospitals amounts to serious infringement of fundamental right to health and medical care which has been recognized and included as a part of right to life enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. The action is against the provisions of Chapter IV of the Directive Principles of State Policy as well as against India's international treaty obligations".
The petition goes on to throw light on a number of hindrances that can, and have, occurred in the last one month due to the internet shutdown in the region. These include-
• Lack of access to internet-based, government-funded health insurance schemes such as Ayushman Bharat, which provide free treatment to the poor and operate solely on e-cards
• Access to specialized treatment where procedures require expert opinion and specially qualified doctors from bigger cities or other states.
• Procuring equipment for implants, drugs and surgical equipment or other medicines and instruments required for specialized procedures such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and dialysis is done online
• Delays in treatment due to non-availability of pathology, blood, biopsy and other test reports which are usually sent to advanced laboratories
• Availability of life saving drugs and baby foods is lower as most establishments order most of this online
• Lack of access to online data servers for research, consultation and documentation
• Inability of establishments in the region to take part in virtual meetigs of the National Cancer Grid
Emphasising on the State's legal responsibility to take care of an individual's fundamental right to health and medical care, the petitioners argue that "irreparable loss can be foreseen among patients needing the said resources" if services are not restored. "Continued and prolonged blockade of internet services are only bound to increase the suffering and will most likely result in catastrophic consequences with regard to deliverance of health, medical and emergency services."
Not only has restoration of internet and landline services in hospitals and medical establishments been sought, but a direction to restore mobile phone services of doctors and other staff members working in these places has also been prayed for. By making the Union Home Ministry, Union Communications Ministry, Chief Secretary of J&K and Home Department of J&K parties to this petition, the petitioners have also sought for an order directing them to desist and refrain from suspending or blocking any of these services for any of the concerned establishments or individuals mentioned above in the future.