Justice, running on 2G?

The Foundation for Media (the Petitioners) approached the Supreme Court seeking a clear cut direction with regard to the continued deprivation of the 4G mobile internet facility to the people of Jammu & Kashmir. What more could one have asked for, what higher authority could one have thought of?

As the gavel came down, the proponents of restoration of 4G mobile internet in Jammu & Kashmir were pushed further down the gaping pit they already found themselves in. One cannot blame them if they find themselves in a bigger difficulty than they had when they set-out to ‘seek justice’; ‘speedy’ justice was never an option – perhaps because speed and 2G do not go together.

The Supreme Court pronounced the order on the 11th of May, 2020 – an order that was expected to clear the air with regard to the uncertainty as well as the legality of the suspended 4G mobile internet in Jammu & Kashmir. Between the Supreme Court starting with “The Supreme Court is called upon to address a sensitive issue on National Security and Human Rights. A responsibility the Court takes with utmost seriousness” and the Attorney General telling the Court that the Court should not step into issues of National Security there was a lot to be desired for.

The Arguments made by the Union of India, through the Attorney General of India and the Solicitor General of India were on the expected lines. The case was essentially built around this being a matter of National Security which not only justified the action taken but also merited the Court staying out of it. Incidents of violent activities that have taken place in Jammu and Kashmir since the 5th of August, 2019 were cited to justify the suspension of 4G mobile services. One would have felt the need to point-out that for most of that period mobile connections in Jammu & Kashmir had been put out, there was no internet in the valley and yet these incidents happened. One would have felt the need to seek an explanation from the Attorney General as to how he was tying-up the militant attacks to 4G internet connection. All the attacks he cited had happened in the ‘absence’ of what he was arguing to be the reason or the precipitating factor for it. Why was no data to connect violent activities to a 4G mobile internet connection put-forth? How could a relief not be granted when the Union had woefully failed to show any connection between the two? What is baffling and rather sad is that no attempts were made to seek those details. A Court case must be based on cold facts. Rhetoric and semantics might make for a good political speech; they are definitely not the ‘only’ ingredients in a Court argument. The word ‘National Security’ kept echoing and somehow ended-up being good enough. How this action was connected to the ‘National Security’ finds no credible basis anywhere. Not an attempt was been made in that direction either. Such was the callousness and lack of seriousness with which the case was argued.

Another argument advanced was that the authorities have been liberal in allowing 2G facilities with full access to social media and that there were no curbs on fixed line internet connections [Home-34 (TSTS) of 2020]. Is this not self-contradictory? Either internet helps the militants or it does not. One cannot argue both ways. When you question them on ‘No 4G connection’ – they say it is an issue of National Security. When you ask them about people suffering as a consequence – they shoot back saying everything is allowed over 2G and fixed line internet (WiFi).

Should we follow the rather obvious trail of breadcrumbs, the end result should not surprise many. The final outcome (no relief), is not surprising but the manner in which it was done is, at-least to me it is. The Supreme Court directed the formation of a Committee to examine the contentions of the material placed by the Petitioners as well as the Respondents. If you think that after prolonged hearings and arguments, the formation of a committee to look into the issues that were brought before the Court was baffling, wait till you carefully examine the composition of this committee. The committee is to be headed by the Secretary (Ministry of Home, Govt. of India) with the Secretary (Department of Communications, Govt. of India) and the Chief Secretary (Union territory of Jammu & Kashmir) as the members. The Union of India as well as the Union territory of Jammu & Kashmir were Respondents before the Hon’ble Court. These are the people the actions of whom had been questioned in the very first place. So, what we essentially have now is the relegation of the issue that was to be decided by the Supreme Court to a three member committee comprising of the very people who were the reason the Supreme Court was approached. They will now sit in Judgment over their own actions. That cannot be right. On top of it no time frame has been set, no accountability has been set either and they are free to decide if they were right in doing what they did.

Kashmir has been through the worst bout of violence in the early nineties. Mobile phones did not exist and internet was a far cry. The obsession with 4G mobile internet connection may in-fact be a distraction. Far more serious bouts of violence have been seen and controlled in the absence of 4G internet. This should tell us two essential things – that the militants do not need 4G internet to up the ante and the security agencies have time tested and proven methods to contain violent activities. Therefore, besides depriving the people of their basic fundamental rights the obsession with suspension of 4G internet may only be weakening that fight.

Advocate Wasim Beg is former Additional Advocate General – Jammu & Kashmir