Faced with difficulties in conducting online hearings due to curbs on high speed Internet in the Union Territory, a division bench of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, comprising Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Sanjay Dhar, directed the UT Home Secretary Shaleen Kabra to appear before it through video conferencing on Thursday to apprise it about the impact of the restrictions on e-connectivity of courts.
Expressing concern over urgent issues involving the rights of residents in the Union Territories of Jammu Kashmir and Ladakh, the bench pointed out that virtual hearings through video conferencing has been necessitated because of strict enforcement of lockdown due to the sharp rise in coronavirus cases in large parts of the Kashmir province.
“However, we find that despite best efforts on the part of our IT experts, it has been impossible today to have even a bare semblance of a hearing,” the bench observed, adding “we have struggled to have virtual/or audio connectivity with the amicus curiae and the several counsels appearing before us… Even the learned Advocate General has expressed grave difficulty in joining the hearing.”
Pointing out that “access to justice is a fundamental right and cannot be impeded”, the bench said “it has to be ensured to every citizen and courts are required to remain accessible.”
The bench also referred to a Supreme Court order dated May 11, 2020 in which the apex court, in a writ petition Foundation for Media Professionals vs Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and another, had ordered setting up a high powered committee led by Union Home Secretary to undertake a review of connectivity restrictions imposed by the authorities on high speed internet in the UT.
The HC had taken suo motto cognizance of the difficulties faced by people during the Covid-19 lockdown and appointed Monika Kohli advocate as an amicus curiae in the case. Earlier in April, it had sought a status report on restoration of 4G Internet facility after the court was informed that non-availability of high speed internet was hampering studies of children during the lockdown.
Internet services were suspended in Jammu and Kashmir on August 5 last year when the Centre moved to abrogate Article 370 and bifurcate the erstwhile state into two UTs of Jammu Kashmir and Ladakh. Slow speed Internet, 2G facility was restored in the UT in January, but restrictions continued.
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