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Give reasons for not restoring 4G in J&K, SC tells Centre, UT

The petitions submitted that doctors, patients and the general public were unable to access the latest information, guidelines, advisories, daily updates and restrictions on COVID-19.

The petitions submitted that doctors, patients and the general public were unable to access the latest information, guidelines, advisories, daily updates and restrictions on COVID-19.  

The Centre and the Jammu and Kashmir administration objected in the Supreme Court on Tuesday to the idea of restoring 4G mobile Internet connectivity in the Union Territory during the COVID-19 lockdown, saying it would affect national security.

However, petitioners, including the Foundation for Media Professionals, said the lack of proper access to 4G Net was handicapping business, education and health services during the lockdown.

A Bench led by Justice N.V. Ramana, hearing the case through videoconferencing, directed the J&K administration and the Union government to file a counter-affidavit spelling out each and every reason why they are averse to restoring 4G in the Union Territory. The court ordered them to file by April 26. It listed the case for further hearing on Monday (April 27).

Attorney General K.K. Venugopal cited militancy as a major hurdle in restoring 4G in the Valley. Hundreds violated the lockdown recently to attend the funeral of slain militants.

Senior advocate Huzefa Ahmedi, for one of the petitioners, countered that 4G access could be restored in areas which were not tense.

 

Advocate Charu Ambwani submitted that the future of over 25 lakh students in J&K were at stake as their schools were unable to hold classes.

To Solicitor General Tushar Mehta's query as to whether these children did not have laptops and tablets, Ms. Ambwani said these gadgets hardly served any purpose without proper connectivity.

Both Mr. Venugopal and Mr. Mehta said the authorities would file a consolidated report highlighting the issues that need to be brought to the court’s attention in the case.

 

In fact, the court had issued formal notice in the case on April 9 itself. The authorities were supposed to have filed their replies by April 21. However, the government sought more time.

The petitions submitted that doctors, patients and the general public were unable to access the latest information, guidelines, advisories, daily updates and restrictions on COVID-19.

‘A tool in fight against COVID-10’

The petition filed by the Foundation for Media Professionals through its president and journalist Paranjoy Guna Thakurta and represented by advocate Shadan Farasat said the “citizens in Jammu & Kashmir should not be deprived of facilities that are already available to Indians across the country, i.e., effective and speedy Internet, an indispensable tool in the struggle against COVID-19”.

It said, “The restriction in respect of mobile internet speeds effectively amounts to a targeted roll-back of such rights in respects of the residents of Jammu & Kashmir.” It pointed out that Internet in J&K had been restricted for over seven months, following the abrogation of the special status of the Kashmiri people under Article 370 in August 2019. It specifically challenged the Internet restricting order issued by the government on March 26. It said the right to Net connectivity had repeatedly been recognised by the Centre as a “basic necessity or an essential service to ensure the right to health”.

 

The lockdown guidelines on March 24 had exempted “telecommunications, Internet services, broadcasting and cable services. IT and IT enabled services only [for essential services] and as far as possible to work from home”.

The petition said there was need for real-time information, which the restricted Internet services running on the outdated 2G speed, largely used to receive and send text messages, cannot provide.

It pointed that 4G was necessary in various critical fields, from telemedicine to supply of medical supplies to academics to online video consultations to professions and even commerce and trade in this time of complete lockdown.

Not restoring the mobile Internet speed to 4G in J&K, in line with the rest of the country and in the light of the pandemic, on the “vague” ground of national security was a violation of the fundamental rights of life, dignity, free speech and shows non-application of mind.

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Printable version | Aug 8, 2020 12:26:34 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/give-reasons-for-not-restoring-4g-in-jk-sc-tells-centre-ut/article31398218.ece

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