SC asks Centre, J&K to reply on plea for 4G internet

Restriction on internet is affecting children’s right to education: Petitioner
SC asks Centre, J&K to reply on plea for 4G internet
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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 RGavai issued notices to them and sought their reply within a week on the pleafiled by 'Foundation for Media Professionals' which has assailed an order ofthe J&K administration on March 26 that has again restricted the internetspeed 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 enhancethe technology and connectivity in the Union Territory.

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

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

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

Terming 2G telephone services as "outdated", the plea said4G internet speed would be useful in ensuring information flow to the citizensin view of the coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic.

"The advent of the COVID-19 global pandemic hasfundamentally altered the existing situation. At present, the following factsexist: first, COVID-19 exists in India, and is a highly infectious andcommunicable disease. Research into its origins and the best ways of tacklingthis 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 informationto citizens during these "extraordinary times".

"In  these conditions—  a pandemic and  a  lock-down –  the  restriction of  mobile  internet speeds  to 2G  only is  completely  unreasonable, illegal,  andunconstitutional  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 awell-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 onlinevideo 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 theNational Telecom  Policy in support ofits 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 directlyimpacting 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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