A plea has been filed before the Supreme Court of India seeking restoration of 4G mobile internet services in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir, in light of the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic.
The PIL filed by Foundation for Media Professionals challenges the government order which restricts internet speed in mobile data services to 2G only, for being violative of Articles 14, 19, 21, and 21A of the Constitution of India.
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 Petitioner has urged the court that during this period of health crisis, the government is under an obligation to ensure access to the "digital infrastructure" that is required to make the Right to Health of citizens, an effective reality.
"Respondent No. 2 has launched various laudable initiatives such as the Ministry of Health's COVID 19 dashboard and MyGovIndia's WhatsApp chatbot, which responds to queries and counters COVID-19 myths with text, infographics and videos that require access to fast internet. However, the residents of Jammu and Kashmir are unable to access potentially life saving information from these services due to the impugned order, thus violating their fundamental rights under Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Constitution," the plea submits.
It has been pointed out that a massive number of people in the UT rely on mobile internet services and not broadband services. Thus, it is submitted that restoration of 4G services is essential so that the residents can access the repository of information on internet, about how best to contain the fallout of the Corona virus, and limit its spread and impact, which is otherwise inaccessible through "outdated" 2G services.
"a combination of the advent of COVID-19 and the accompanying lock-down has created a situation where the right to health, for its effective fulfilment, is dependent on the availability of an effective and speedy internet.
This is because 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," the plea states.
It further states,
"Severe restrictions on the speed of mobile internet services directly limits the Article 19(1)(a) right of the public to know the latest information about the spread of COVID-19, the measures being taken to address it, and the restrictions imposed on the general public."
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.
"Various public health practitioners, medical professionals, and doctors have repeatedly expressed their concern about wasting precious time trying to download the latest studies, protocols, manuals and advisories on treatment and management of COVID," the plea states.
Further it is averred that slow internet speeds renders "telemedicine" or online video consultation impossible. "These avenues are essential to achieve social distancing and reduce the number of in-patient visits to hospitals, for patients who are desperate to meet doctors in order to understand their COVID-19 symptoms; or come in for treatment of other medical and psychological problems, including anxiety, which require counseling," it is contended.
Lastly, the petition states that restoration of full-fledged internet services is also crucial to strictly implement the "work from home" policy being promoted by the government.
"Restricted internet speeds also makes it virtually impossible to follow the government mandated "work from home" policy, especially for businesses in the Information Technology and ITES (IT Enabled Services) sector" and also for educational institutions, the plea states.
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