Govt. ignoring SC order on J&K Internet curbs: plea

Court had ordered setting up of panel on blanket restrictions

June 09, 2020 05:19 pm | Updated 05:19 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Image for representational purpose only.

Image for representational purpose only.

A contempt of Supreme Court petition has been filed, making Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla and Chief Secretary of Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory B.V.R. Subrahmanyam parties, for their “willful disobedience” of a May 11 apex court direction to “immediately” establish a Special Committee to determine the necessity of continuing “blanket restrictions” on 4G Internet access in Jammu & Kashmir, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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

On May 11, the Supreme Court, acting on a petition filed by the Foundation for Media Professionals, had directed the Centre and J&K to constitute a Special Committee with the Secretary, Union Ministry of Home Affairs as Chairperson, followed by the Secretary, Department of Communications, Union Ministry of Communications, and the Chief Secretary, Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, as members.

In its contempt petition and a separate application, the Foundation, represented by advocate Shadan Farasat, said nearly a month has passed since the Supreme Court judgment. There is no record in the public domain about the formation of a Special Committee “to consider the necessity and proportionality of the ongoing blanket mobile Internet speed restrictions in the entire Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir” as the court had directed.

In fact, the Foundation said, J&K authorities had issued a new order on the very evening of the May 11 judgment, directing Internet service providers to continue a blanket restriction on mobile internet speed to 2G for the whole of J&K. A representation to explain the order and seeking information about whether the Special Committee was formed or consulted prior to this order, had got no reply.

Also read: Terrorists inciting people via fake news, J&K tells SC; opposes 4G internet in UT

Dubious efficacy

The petition said the authorities had extended the blanket restrictions on mobile Internet speeds on May 27. This time, the government order had cited terror incidents in the Valley — proving that Internet cuts really do not achieve government's desired aim. A second representation from the Foundation to the authorities on the existence and role of the Special Committee was again met with stony silence.

“Twenty-nine days have elapsed since this Court expressly directed the Special Committee to ‘immediately’ determine the ‘necessity’ of the continuation of restrictions on internet access in Jammu & Kashmir. However, to the best of the petitioner’s (Foundation) knowledge, no action has been taken by the Special Committee, either to comply with this direction and review the J&K government’s orders of 11.05.2020 and 27.05.2020,” the petition said.

The Foundation said there is no sign of whether the government has complied with the court direction.

Lax attitude

“There is no information available in the public domain about whether the constitution of the Special Committee has been notified; whether it has conducted any meetings; or passed any orders since it was directed to be established through this Court’s judgement on May 11... Such a lax attitude, especially during a health pandemic and humanitarian crisis, violates both the letter and the spirit of this Court’s judgments which took judicial notice of the concerns relating to the ongoing pandemic and the hardships that may be faced by the people of Jammu & Kashmir,” the petition said.

The petition said the J&K order cites reasons like the “onslaught of summer” and “the melting of snow” as grounds for restricting the internet speed.

“Such perennial reasons render Internet restrictions permanent and are not based on any emergency or urgency and go against the spirit of the Telecom Suspension Rules,” the petition said.

The petition highlighted that the Supreme Court had itself said in its judgment in the Anuradha Bhasin case that “restrictions cannot be permanent”. If the Special Committee has been formed, it is supposed to review the ground situation every seven days.

The government’s stand that Internet speed restrictions do not pose any hindrance to COVID-19 control measures, including use of mobile apps, accessing online educational content or carrying out business activities is “patently incorrect”, the Foundation submitted.

It said the court should re-visit the case to enquire from the government about the setting up of the Special Committee, which should, in turn, review the Internet restrictions in J&K after considering the material placed on record by the Foundation about its unsuitability as a counter-terrorism strategy.

The court should direct the Special Committee, if notified, to consider the harm suffered by healthcare professionals, students, businesspersons and ordinary people of J&K because of prolonged Internet restrictions, the petition said.

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