A special committee led by the Union Home Secretary will consider pleas for restoring 4G internet services in Jammu and Kashmir, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday, saying that national security and human rights interests must be balanced in view of the fact the Union Territory has been “plagued with militancy”, NDTV reported.
The top court said it was “desirable” to have better internet services in the Union Territory amid the global coronavirus pandemic and a nationwide lockdown. The centre had enforced a communication blockade in Jammu and Kashmir in August last year when it revoked the state’s special status and divided it into two union territories. It restored the much-slower 2G internet service in January this year.
“However, the fact that outside forces are trying to infiltrate the borders and destabilise the integrity of the nation, as well as cause incidents resulting in the death of innocent citizens and security forces every day, cannot be ignored,” Justices N V Ramana, R Subhash Reddy and B R Gavai said in their order.
The top court said it takes “with utmost seriousness” the sensitive task of balancing “national security and human rights” and referred to its earlier judgement in which it held that “the degree of restriction and the scope of the same, both territorially and temporally, must stand in relation to what is actually necessary to combat an emergent situation.”
“At the same time, we do recognise that the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir has been plagued with militancy, which is required to be taken into consideration. These competing considerations needs to calibrated in terms of our judgment …,” Justice Ramana, who wrote the order for the bench, said.
The bench said since the issues involved affected both the Union Territory and the nation, the review committee should comprise their senior officials to look into the entire issue.
“We, therefore, find it appropriate to constitute a Special Committee comprising of the following Secretaries at national, as well as state level, to look into the prevailing circumstances and immediately determine the necessity of the continuation of the restrictions in Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir,” the order said.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) Secretary will head the special panel and the Secretary of Ministry of Communications and the Chief Secretary of the Union Territory would be the members.
“The Special Committee is directed to examine the contentions of, and the material placed herein by, the Petitioners as well as the Respondents. The Committee must also examine the appropriateness of the alternatives suggested by the Petitioners, regarding limiting the restrictions to those areas where it is necessary and the allowing of faster internet (3G or 4G) on a trial basis over certain geographical areas and advise the Respondent No. 1 (Centre) regarding the same, in terms of our earlier directions,” it said.
The court took note of the submissions of the centre that continuous infiltration, foreign influence, violent extremism and issues of national integrity are prevalent in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
The centre had also pointed to certain material, which indicates that cyber terrorism is on the rise within the valley and the Pakistani Military in its “Green Book 2020” has called for information warfare on Kashmir, after the revocation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, the order noted.
The top court directions came on pleas filed by Foundation for Media Professionals, Soayib Qureshi and Private Schools Association of Jammu and Kashmir seeking restoration of 4G in the Union Territory on grounds such as the right to access doctors is inherent under Article 21 (Right to Life) of the constitution and it’s deprivation should be judged in view of the coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic.
They had also alleged that the right of children to access schools through the high-speed internet service have been hampered.
Earlier, the centre and the Jammu and Kashmir administration, had justified the restriction on 4G service in the Union Territory saying high-speed internet might be used for sending information about troop movement, and referred to the recent “tragic” deaths of security personnel in an encounter with militants, reported NDTV.