A bench comprising Justices N V Ramana, R Subhash Reddy and B R Gavai had reserved orders on May 4 on the petitions filed by Foundation of Media Professionals, Private Schools Association of J&K and Soayib Qureshi. The petitioners contended that speed restriction on internet in the region amidst the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in disproportionate infringement of the right to access internet.
Senior Advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, appearing for Foundation of Media Professionals, submitted that doctors are finding it difficult to function effectively in absence of 4G speed. When the bench posed a query regarding the need to account for security concerns raised by the State, Ahmadi replied that the during the times of pandemic, the fundamental right to access health care should also be given importance.
Senior Advocate Salman Kurshid, appearing for Private Schools Association of J&K, submitted that the speed restrictions have affected online education. He further submitted that Private schools are under government directions to provide education via Video-conferencing. We have obligation under Right to Education Act to provide education.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for J&K administration, submitted that health services are working in J&K even with the speed restrictions. There was no information of anyone dying of COVID-19 because of lack of internet access. The secondary schools students of the region are at a disadvantage while competing with students from other parts of the country having 4G net access.
Ahmadi urged the Court to allow the opening of high-speed internet at least on a “trial basis”. Senior Advocate Salman Khurshid, in his rejoinder, submitted that there are options for blocking problematic sites, which should be explored instead of cutting off 4G completely. The Supreme Court had observed that indefinite suspension of internet is not permissible and restrictions on internet have to follow the principles of proportionality under Article 19(2). The blockade on social media was lifted on March 4, but the speed was retained as 2G for mobile data. The administration stated that the speed restrictions have not affected COVID-19 control measures and online education. The Supreme Court refrained to pass any positive direction for restoration of 4g internet services. Also directed the Centre to constitute a “Special Committee” to examine the issues raised by the petitioners.
The Committee must be headed by the Secretary of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs.
By Priyanka of SPPU