The Centre and the Jammu and Kashmir administration justified in the Supreme Court on Monday the restriction on 4G service in the UT saying high speed internet may be used for sending information about troop movement, and referred to Sunday’s “tragic” deaths of security personnel in an encounter with militants.
The top court, dealing with PILs seeking restoration of 4G service in the UT, said it has to deal with the legal question of ensuring balance in view of health and security concerns raised by the petitioners and the governments.
The submissions of the Centre and the UT were opposed before a bench, headed by Justice N V Ramana, by senior lawyers Salman Khurshid and Huzefa Ahmadi who were representing parties seeking restoration of 4G, on grounds such as right to access doctors is an inherent under article 21 (Right to Life) of the Constitution and it’s deprivation should be judged in view of the coronavirus or Covid-19 pandemic.
They also alleged that the right of children to access schools through the high speed internet service have been hampered.
The bench, which also comprised Justices R Subhash Reddy and B R Gavai, heard arguments of both sides including that of Attorney General K K Venugopal and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for the Centre and the Union Territory respectively, and reserved the verdict.
During the over 2-hour hearing, held via video conferencing, Venugopal said the government’s policy decision should not be questioned as the restriction was meant to protect the entire population of the state and not only patients.
Militants are being pushed into the country. Yesterday, there were some tragic incident, Venugopal said, adding that videos of the troop movements can be shared with the enemy by using 4G and there was no denial of the fact that security of the state was considered while taking such a decision.
He said that fixed line internet was already permitted in the UT and the authorities can keep a check on any militant propaganda and urged the court that the PILs be examined by keeping the larger public interest of national security in mind.
The law officer said sovereignty of the nation and the state was seriously affected due to militant activities.
Matters of policy should not be interfered and it must be left to the government, Venugopal said.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said that the restrictions were necessary and moreover, internet was working in the UT through land lines which is traceable and cannot be misused for anti-national activities.
Mobile phones are used and thrown away, he said, adding that the review committee will take the decision on the restoration of the 4G.
The law officer said initially there was complete lock down and later movement is being allowed to some extent and the decisions are being made at the ground level by persons concerned.
Ahmadi, appearing for one of the petitioners, referred to the orders passed by the UT administration on curbing of internet speed and said nothing substantial can be done by using 2G.
The senior lawyer said that doctors are unable to access information about COVID treatment in the UT, where there was 701 COVID cases as on date.
The right to access information is inherent under Article 21 and deprivation of fundamental rights has to be judged in the light of the fact that there was a pandemic and the rights of persons to access doctors and of children to access schools are restricted, he said.
The bench said there was no dispute with regard to the fact that 4G is very fast as compared to 2G, but the legal question was of balance.
There are health concerns and security concerns and the government was raising security concerns, the bench said.
It said that the authorities have said that the people can rely on landline broadband connections which are more than one lakh in the UT.
Ahmadi alleged that rights to livelihood and access to telemedicine have been affected and people have been denied the right to connect with their friends and family.
Senior advocate Khurshid said that private schools are under the government directions to provide education via video-conferencing which cannot be provided due to the lack of internet speed
The UT, on its affidavit, said that there has been a weekly review of the situation but none of the review orders or information as available in public domain, the lawyer said.
Earlier, the UT administration, in its affidavit, had said that militant modules operating within Jammu and Kashmir and their handlers from across the border incite people by transmission of fake news.
It had said there were well founded apprehensions of misuse of internet for propagation of militant activities and incitement through the circulation of inflammatory material particularly fake videos and photos as also co-ordination of activities that are inimical to security and public order.
The submissions were made in response to PILs including the one filed by Foundation for Media Professionals seeking restoration of 4G internet services in the Union Territory in view of prevailing Covid-19 pandemic.
Prior to this, the top court had issued notices to the Centre and Jammu and Kashmir administration on the PILs seeking restoration of 4G internet services in the Union territory.