Press Trust of india

SC asks Centre, J&K to reply on plea for restoration of 4G services

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court asked the Centre and the Jammu and Kashmir administration on Thursday to respond to a plea seeking directions to them to restore 4G internet in the Union Territory in view of the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic.

A bench of Justices N V Ramana, R Subhash Reddy and B R Gavai issued notices to them and sought their reply within a week on the plea filed by ‘Foundation for Media Professionals’ which has assailed an order of the J&K administration on March 26 that restricted to the  internet speed to 2G only in the UT.

Senior advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, appearing for the petitioner, contended that in view of the ongoing lockdown it is very necessary to enhance the technology and connectivity in the Union Territory.

He said that the virtual classes of students, whose schools are shut due to the lockdown, can only be done through enhancement of technology and better connectivity.

The bench said it is issuing notice which may be served through e-mail on standing counsel of the Jammu and Kashmir administration and the Centre.

The plea filed through advocate Shadan Farasat, while seeking restoration of 4G internet services, alleged that the action of the government was violative of Articles 14 (right to equality), 19 (freedom of speech) and 21 (right to life) of the Constitution.

Terming 2G telephone services as “outdated”, the plea said 4G internet speed would be useful in ensuring information flow to the citizens in view of the coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic.

“The advent of the COVID-19 global pandemic has fundamentally altered the existing situation. At present, the following facts exist:  first, COVID-19 exists in India, and is a highly infectious and communicable disease. Research into its origins and the best ways of tackling this disease is ongoing, and  there  is  a  continuing  flow  of  new  information  about  how best  to  contain  the  fall  out  of  the  virus,  and  limit  its  spread and  impact,” it said.

The plea added that it wanted to ensure flow of information to citizens during these “extraordinary times when the number of cases of Coronavirus Disease (“COVID-19”) in Jammu and Kashmir has already reached 33, with 2 reported deaths”.

“In  these conditions —  a  pandemic and  a  lock-down  –  the  restriction  of  mobile  internet  speeds  to 2G  only  is  completely  unreasonable,  illegal,  and unconstitutional  for  the  following  reasons.

“First  the  guarantee  of  life  and  personal  liberty  under Article  21  of  the  Constitution  of  India  includes  the  right  to health;  and  it  is  the  constitutional  obligation  of  the  State  to provide  –  or  at  least,  not  to  inhibit  the  provision  of  –  the essential  infrastructure  that  makes  this  right  effective,  and  not reduce  it  to  a  nullity..,” it said.

The  right  to  health  is  a composite  right which requires  the  state  to  take  active measures  to  ensure  the  presence  of  necessary  physical, and, by  extension,  digital,  infrastructure and a well-functioning internet,  especially  in  times  of  an  epidemic  such  as  COVID19,  is  an  essential  part  of  this  digital  infrastructure  that  is required  to  make  this  right  an  effective  reality, it said.

The slow internet speed also renders telemedicine or online video  consultation  impossible, it said.

“The right to  internet  connectivity  has  repeatedly  been recognised  by  the  Government  of  India  as  a  basic  necessity  or an  essential  service  to  ensure  the  right  to  health,” the plea said and referred to the National Telecom  Policy in support of its contention.

“Fourth, the impugned  order  has  directly  impacted  the enjoyment  of  various  other  fundamental  rights  in  the  specific context  of  the  ongoing  lockdown.  Restricted internet speeds are directly impacting the  ability  of  children  of  Jammu  & Kashmir  to  exercise  their  fundamental  right  to  education, guaranteed  under  Article  21A  of  the  Constitution  since schools  there  are  unable  to  shift  their  mode  of  instruction,” it said.

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