The Supreme Court on Thursday issued notice in a plea seeking restoration of 4G mobile internet services in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir, in light of the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic.
A bench comprising Justices N.V. Ramana, R. Subhash Reddy & B.R. Gavai issued notice to the standing counsel of Jammu & Kashmir via email, returnable within a week.
Senior Advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, Advocates Shadan Farasat and Apar Gupta appeared for the petitioner via Video Conferencing.
Ahmadi submitted that in view of the lockdown, it is extremely necessary to enhance technology & connectivity in Jammu and Kashmir.
"The virtual classes of students can only be done through enhancement of technology" Ahmadi submitted.
The bench had also inquired whether anybody appeared for the Government, as only Advocates Shadan Farasat & Huzefa Ahmadi appeared on the VC screen.
"The virtual classes of students can only be done through enhancement of technology", submitted the petitioner.
The PIL filed by Foundation for Media Professionals has challenged the government order which restricted 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 Petition has been filed on the basis of inputs from Internet Freedom Foundation.
On April 3, the J&K administration 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)".
In the instant plea, 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 submited.
The plea further points out that since a large number of people in the valley rely on mobile internet services, the "restoration of 4G services is essential so that the residents can access the repository of information on internet" and that "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,"
There is also a representation in terms of "telemedicine" or online video consultation in the petition which are "deemed impossible without access to 4G" and this, accordinly leaves the public at a disadvantageous position.
The petitioner brings out the folly in lack of full-fledged internet services averring that not being able to have access to 4G "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"also crucial to strictly implement the "work from home" policy being promoted by the government".