J&K: Plea in SC for Restoration of 4G Mobile Internet Services Amid COVID-19 Crisis

The number of cases in the UT has reached 70, with two reported deaths.

New Delhi: A PIL has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking directions to the Centre and the Jammu and Kashmir administration to restore 4G internet speed in the Union Territory in light of prevailing COVID-19 pandemic.

The plea, filed through ‘Foundation for Media Professionals’, has assailed an order of the UT administration of March 26, by which internet speed has been restricted to 2G only in the state.

The plea, 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.

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Terming 2G telephone services as “outdated”, the plea said 4G internet speed would be useful in ensuring information flow to the citizens in view of the COVID-19.

“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,” the plea said.

It said the plea has been filed to ensure the 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.

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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.