No relief for Kashmir as SC asks executive to take a call on executive action.
The Honorable Supreme Court of India in Foundation for Media Professionals Vs Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and ANR(Diary No. 10817-2020X) has refused to give relief to the residents of Kashmir and has asked the executive to take a decision on restoration of 4G services.
The petition filed in the Supreme Court of India demanded the restoration of 4G internet services in the Union Territory to fight against an unprecedented pandemic(COVID-19). The Supreme court in an order dated 11.05.2020 has directed the formation of a Special committee headed by the Home Secretary, Government of India, and comprising of the Home Secretary, Ministry of Communications, and the Chief Secretary of Jammu and Kashmir. This special committee is supposed to look into the contentions of the petitioners and respondents and the alternatives suggested by the petitioners before arriving at a decision.
During the pandemic, when panic is high and the entire world is relying on the internet to gather information, to deprive an entire Union Territory of the internet is a drastic measure. SFLC.in had written an open letter earlier to urge the Government of the Union Territory to restore 4G in the valley.
Under the Telecom Suspension Rules 2017, a review committee has to be formed every time a shutdown occurs. This review committee is to be comprised of three officials namely, the chief sectary, the law sectary as well as the sectary to the state government(other than the home secretary). This review committee is supposed to look at whether the suspension was in accordance with the procedure stated under these rules. A major flaw of the Suspension Rules is that the review process of an executive action is also conducted by the Executive. The Supreme Court has now constituted another committee of the Executive in addition to the review committee. It is unfortunate that the Supreme Court has instead of taking a decisive stance shifted the decision making back to the executive.
Jammu and Kashmir has been facing an unprecedented communication blackout since 4th August 2020 after the abrogation of Article 370 which gave the erstwhile state a special status. 2G was restored in the Union territory after 213 days of complete internet blackout. The country has been forced to go on a complete lockdown due to COVID-19. To fight the said pandemic, timely information is crucial which is enabled by high-speed internet. In the absence of fast internet, the fight against COVID-19 will weaken as timely information cannot reach citizens, especially medical practitioners. This restriction has also had a harrowing impact on education and the economy. At SFLC.in, we have been documenting the impact of the ban on high speed internet in the fight against COVID-19.
Since 6.5.2020, following an encounter in South Kashmir, the valley is facing another internet blackout wherein even 2G services have been stopped.
We will continue fighting against this and other network disruptions that restrict citizen’s rights to free speech, education, and healthcare.