J&K Net issue: SC for balancing healthcare and security

Bench reserves orders on a bunch of petitions seeking 4G restoration in UT

Updated - December 03, 2021 06:25 am IST

Published - May 04, 2020 05:56 pm IST - New Delhi

Supreme Court of India.

Supreme Court of India.

The Supreme Court on Monday agreed that 4G is faster than 2G Internet though a balance may have to be struck between healthcare in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic and national security concerns in Jammu and Kashmir.

A Bench of Justices N.V. Ramana, B.R. Gavai and R. Subhash Reddy reserved its orders on a bunch of petitions seeking the restoration of 4G in J&K, saying access to faster Internet was vital to healthcare, education and trade/business in the Union Territory.

In fact, one of the petitioners, Forum of Media Professionals, represented by senior advocate Huzefa Ahmadi and advocate Shadan Farasat, said even the ‘Aarogya Setu’ App, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi had encouraged the public to download to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, cannot be downloaded through 2G.

The petitioners countered the official narrative in court that 4G speed facilitates terrorism, saying “there is no rational relation between the legitimate State goal [curbing terrorism] and the method used [restricting access to the Internet]”.

Attorney General K.K. Venugopal referred to the encounter in northern Kashmir’s Handwara that killed several Army personnel.

Mr. Ahmadi submitted, “The government has not been able to show any direct nexus between a surge in terrorist activities with that of 4G… Let them open Internet speeds for a week, and see if there is any nexus with terrorism. They can consider week by week”.

'Surge in terror'

The Bench referred to the government’s submissions that there had been a “surge in terror”. Justice Reddy asked the petitioners whether they were saying the court should even “ignore security concerns”. Justice Gavai said the question before the court was that of “legal balance between health and security concerns”.

Mr. Ahmadi argued that access to information through Internet was protected under free speech under the Constitution. The burden would be on the government to establish that curtailing access to Internet bears a rational relationship with its goal to curb terror.

“It is disproportionate for the State to restrict access to the Internet of all, for the misdeeds and crimes of a few. For example, if a well that serves as the source of water for a village is also used by terrorists. It would not be permissible for the State to fill up the well or block access to it to prevent terrorists from accessing water,” Mr. Farasat argued.

“Access to Internet is a basic and essential facet of the freedom of speech and expression and the Right to Know [including the right of the media to report freely]. Access to Internet is an indispensable requirement for access to various other fundamental rights,” the petitioners argued.

The lack of speedy Net had virtually rendered impossible for suspected COVID-19 patients to have even online medical consultations with doctors. Besides, the apps for online school classes required 4G speed. Accessing e-commerce and online banking during the lockdown was a challenge. Again, 2G speed was too slow for virtual filings and hearings of cases in courts, they said.

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