Internet ‘not a right in itself’: J&K Govt defends 4G ban in SC
Cites militancy, fake news, Geelani’s health, 2010 and 2016 unrests, among others as reasons to justify ban
Srinagar: The J&K government has justified in the Supreme Court its nine-month long and continuing ban on high-speed mobile internet in Kashmir by calling internet “as an enabler of rights and not a right in itself.”
Besides, the government has also claimed that the “right to access the internet is not a fundamental right.”
“It is submitted that internet is an enabler of rights and not a right in itself and that the present 2G speed of internet does enable one to create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge,” reads one of the 47 submissions in a 35-page reply from J&K government filed in the apex court on Wednesday in response to three petitions seeking restoration of the service.
A cursory read of the entire affidavit filed in Supreme Court by J&K indicates that the high-speed mobile internet in Kashmir is unlikely to be restored anytime soon.
In the reply, a copy of which was accessed by The Kashmir Monitor, the J&K government has vehemently justified the ban by including many submissions including cross-border militancy, fake news, Geelani’s health, 2010 and 2016 unrests, the number of deaths in Kashmir since 1990, Covid-19 response, government schools versus private schools, the giving of Azaans across Kashmir recently following a video from Pakistan, among others.
There are three petitions in the apex court filed against the suspension of 4G internet services.
One has been filed by J&K Private Schools Association (PSAJK), another by an organisation called Foundation of Media Professionals, and the third one by Advocate Soayib Qureshi.
In the joint response to these petitions, Principal Secretary of the J&K Home Department Shaleen Kabra giave a slew of reasons defending the ban on 4G internet that remains suspended since August 2019.
In it, the J&K Government claims that the “right to access the internet is not a fundamental right.”
“…thus the type and breadth of access for exercising the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) and/or to carry on any trade or business under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India (CoI) through the medium of internet can be curtailed,” reads one of the submissions made to the court by the J&K government.
It claims that health related and other important information regarding COVID-19, including documents and advisories issued by the Government on websites, is being accessed by “over 100,000 professionals in various health facilities in J&K through fixed line High-Speed internet.”
“…apprehensions of the petitioner that medical professionals and the general public are not able to access latest studies, manuals on treatment and 19 management of COVID-19 because of 2G internet speed is misconceived,” reads the reply.
The J&K government says that the advisories against the misuse of mobile data services in other parts of the country “may not be practical and definitely not suffice” in case of J&K.
“For instance, umpteen rumours relating to number of positive COVID-19 cases/deaths, creating chaos and panic; health related fake news of prominent people in Jammu & Kashmir like that of Chairman, All Party Hurriyat, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, in whose case a route plan was also mentioned guiding general public on how to reach Eidgah, Srinagar in the eventuality of his demise; shutdown call by JKLF on the eve of death anniversary of Maqbool Bhat and Afzal Guru; to observe Republic Day as black day… and very recently, religious preachers from Pakistan had urged people via social media to recite Azan in Masjids during midnight and on viewing this video, people across the valley recited Azan in different Masjids, which created panic and law and order situation.”
Referring to the recent surge in militancy incidents and encounters, the J&K government has said that while the world is fighting a war against COVID-19, J&K is on a continuous war with militants “aided, abetted and encouraged from across the border.”
Interestingly, it has also claimed that the “current discourses of social media campaigns infer that Pak handles are aiming to incite violence amongst College and University students.”
“Post August 2019 constitutional developments, Pakistan handlers, either directly or indirectly, have increased activity on social media intending to and aiming at disturbance of peace in the region, inciting violence and abetting terror activities,” it reads.
The increase in internet speed, the J&K government says in the reply, is “verily apprehended to lead to swift uploading and posting of provocative videos and other heavy data files.”
“High speed internet services (4G) decrease the time of circulation of various photographs, videos, propaganda audios and hence enable the associated content to go viral, with the reaction time of law enforcement agencies to such situations decreasing,” it says.
The government even pointed out to a fake Supreme Court order circulated on social media in Kashmir claiming that the court had ordered “a quick review of 4G restoration within 24 hours.”
“It is submitted that even this Hon’ble Court has not been spared from the ill effects of habitual fake news propaganda which took place very recently and in respect of this very petition,” reads the reply.
In response to the petitioners citing how 4G suspension was impacting education, the government in the reply says that “majority of the students” did not have access to smartphones or computers.
“Majority of students of class 1st to 12th are studying in 24,018 government schools as compared to 5,690 private schools. Further, majority of government school students do not have mobile/smart phones or computers to access the internet,” it says.
The government claims that e-learning apps are “easily downloadable and the video lectures can be browsed without any issue over 2G internet.”
Taking a dig at the petitioners, the government, while referring to 2010 and 2016 unrests, says that even then internet was suspended and educational institutions were shut but “no one” approached the court with such petitions.
“…in the years 2010 & 2016, restrictions were imposed in the UT of J&K to ensure maintenance of law & order. During the said period, all the educational institutions were shut for a considerable period of time and internet services were also suspended altogether though temporarily. At that point in time, neither the petitioners nor any other person approached this Hon’ble Court with the submissions and prayers for restoration of internet or for providing facility of online classes to the student community then.”
The J&K government, in its reply, even took help from the data related to deaths in J&K in the last three decades.
“The petitioners and the present affidavit needs to be appreciated in light of the fact that since 1990, 41866 persons have lost their lives in 71038 incidents throughout the erstwhile State of J&K. This includes 14038 civilians, 5292 personnel of security forces and 22536 terrorists. These figures depict the nuances and emphasis the unavoidable requirement of reasonable restrictions given the very peculiar geo-political position of Jammu & Kashmir and its geographical proximity with Pakistan.”
Chairman PSAJK, one of the petitioners, told The Kashmir Monitor that the hearing was due in the next few days.