Facing hiccups in conducting online hearings due to curbs on high speed Internet in Jammu and Kashmir, a division bench of the High Court, comprising Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Sanjay Dhar, has directed Home Secretary Shaleen Kabra to apprise it about the impact of the restrictions on e-connectivity of courts by appearing before it through video conferencing on Thursday.

The bench pointed out that virtual hearings through video conferencing have been necessitated because of lockdown due to the sharp rise in coronavirus cases in parts of Kashmir.

 

“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 on Tuesday, 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 Jammu and Kashmir

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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