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Terming 2G telephone services as "outdated", the plea said4G internet speed would be useful in ensuring information flow to the citizensin view of the coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic.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