SRINAGAR: Jammu and Kashmir High Court has directed Home Secretary Shaleen Kabra to appear before on Thursday after it “struggled” to conduct online hearings due to curbs on internet speed in J&K.

“Given the sharp rise in the COVID-19 infections, we have been compelled to strictly enforce the lockdown as has been imposed in large parts of Kashmir Province. As a result, virtual hearings have been necessitated,” a division bench of Chief Justice Mittal and Justice Sanjay Dhar while hearing a Public Interest Litigation said.

“This court is concerned with urgent issues involving rights of the residents of the Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh. However, we find today that despite best efforts on the part of our IT experts, it has been impossible to have even a bare semblance of a hearing,” the court said, according to GNS, 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.”

The court said that access to justice is a fundamental right and cannot be impeded and “it has to be ensured to every citizen and courts are required to remain accessible.”

“By its order dated 11th May 2020 in Writ Petition (Civil) D.No.10817/2020 entitled ‘Foundation for Media Professionals v. Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and Anr.’ the Supreme Court of India constituted a Committee at the highest level to undertake a review of connectivity restrictions imposed by the authorities,” the court observed and summoned the Home Secretary on July 16.

“Given the extreme difficulty being faced by us, let Mr. Shaleen Kabra, Home Secretary appear before us through Video Conferencing and apprise this court about the impact of the restrictions on e-connectivity of the courts,” the court added.

On July 8, the government extended the ban on high-speed internet services in Jammu and Kashmir till July 29, claiming it helped neutralize more militants and prevent ‘fake news and rumor-mongering”.

“Upon assessment of the reports of the field agencies bringing out in unambiguous terms the necessity for the continuation of the restrictions on access to internet services, I being satisfied that it is absolutely necessary so to do in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the Security of the State and for maintaining public order, …hereby order that the directions/restrictions contained in the order (dated June 17) shall continue to remain in force till 29 July 2020, unless modified earlier,” reads an order by Principal Secretary Home Department Shaleen Kabra. By virtue of the June 17 order, the internet speed was restricted in J&K to 2G.

As per the order, the restrictions on access to internet services have been put in place to “curb misuse of data for uploading, downloading, circulation of provocative content on the social media and prevent or reduce rumor mongering and fake news, counter attempts of recruiting gullible youth into the militants’ ranks”. (GNS)


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