The Supreme Court on Monday sought responses from the Central government and the Union Territory administration in a plea against orders reducing the speed of internet services from 4G to 2G in several districts of Jammu and Kashmir, Bar and Bench reported.
A Bench of Justices BR Gavai and BV Nagarathna issued notice in the 2020 plea filed by an association of private schools in the Union Territory through Advocate Shadan Farasat.
While 4G services have since been restored in the Valley after being removed post the abrogation of Article 370, and later during the COVID-19 pandemic, the petitioners had pointed out,
“The restriction on internet access in Jammu and Kashmir has developed an indefinite and permanent character – continuing for over 500 days, making it the longest internet shutdown in any democracy ever by far.”
It was further contended that the government orders were in violation of the Supreme Court ruling in Anuradha Bhasin, in which it was held that bans or restrictions on internet services can only be limited and not indefinite.
Thus, the petitioners prayed for a declaration that the orders reducing the speed of internet services were illegal, unconstitutional, void, and violative of Articles 14, 19, 21, and 21A of the Constitution.
Pertinently, the plea states that the orders restricting internet speed do not cite any actual incidents of violence necessitating a threat to public safety, as is necessary under Section 5(2) of the Telegraph Act and the Telecom Suspension Rules.
“It is submitted that unless the requirement of a public emergency under the law is strictly adhered to, internet restrictions will be imposed in a routine and permanent manner and they would fall beyond the ambit of Article 19(2) of the Constitution. Term such as “overall security situation” which are used in the Impugned Order are vague…since they conceal and prevent the Court as well as the people from knowing which areas of Jammu & Kashmir are at risk of violence to evaluate whether the restrictions have been tailored to those areas and have not been blanketly imposed.”
It goes on to state that reducing internet speeds in the region serves no purpose in the battle against propaganda spread by terrorists and others.
“The Impugned order fails to recognize that there exists no rational nexus between restriction of mobile internet speed to 2G and security of the State and public order, nor has any such nexus been demonstrated by the Respondents. In fact, there is empirical evidence to the contrary, which demonstrates that internet shutdowns actually incentivize those forms of violent collective action which require less communication and coordination than peaceful demonstrations.”
“The continuation of these restrictions on the ground that terrorism prevails in the region without any evidence of suitability and the pursuit of less restrictive measures and the assessment of the impact of these measures on ordinary citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic renders the restriction indefinite, and risks treating innocent law-abiding citizens as criminals,” it concludes.