The Supreme Court Thursday asked the Centre and the Jammu and Kashmir administration to respond to a plea seeking the restoration of 4G internet in the Union Territory amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
A bench of Justices N V Ramana, R Subhash Reddy, and B R Gavai issued notices to the Centre and the UT administration and sought their reply within a week. The plea was filed by ‘Foundation for Media Professionals’, which had criticised the March 26 order of the administration that restricted the internet speed to 2G in the UT.
Four persons have died in Jammu and Kashmir due to COVID-19 and as many as 162 cases have been reported in the Union Territory so far.
“The advent of the COVID-19 global pandemic has fundamentally altered the existing situation. At present, the following facts exist: first, COVID-19 exists in India, and is a highly infectious and communicable disease. Research into its origins and the best ways of tackling this 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,” the plea said.
The plea further said that it wanted to ensure the flow of information to the 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, and unconstitutional 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,” the plea added.
The plea also said that the right to internet has been recognised as a basic necessity by the Indian government to ensure the right to health.
“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 directly impacting 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 added.
A petition filed by the same organisation last week said, “Doctors in Jammu & Kashmir have expressed their inability to download PDF files containing guidelines for intensive care management in hospitals or the damage caused by delays in receiving and accessing the latest protocols, studies, manuals, advisories, and containment strategies. The denial of access to critical information in times of a “notified disaster” seriously impacts the right to public health”.
The current 2G internet in the region also makes telemedicine, online court hearings, video school lessons, and other work-from-home methods close to impossible, the petition argued.
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