Friday, March 31, 2023

Restoration of 4G In J&K: Media Foundation Files Contempt Action Against Centre, Others

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The Foundation of Media Professionals has filed a contempt petition and an interim application on June 8th before the Apex Court seeking immediate restoration of 4G in the State of J & K. The contempt and the IA have been filed by Advocate Shadan Farasat and drafted with assistance by Vrinda Bhandari, Advocate and Apar Gupta and Devdutta Mukhopadhaya of the Internet Freedom Foundation. 

The contempt petition has been filed to bring the Court’s attention to the wilful failure of government officials in complying with the directions of the Supreme Court despite 29 days having elapsed since the judgement was delivered on 11 May 2020. 

Since abrogation of its special status on August 15th 2019, Jammu and Kashmir and its people have been subject to multiple Government restrictions, including lockdowns, restrictions on internet, etc. While the entire world is crippled with the COVID-19 pandemic, the UT of J&K is finding itself handicapped with a yet another restriction on speed of internet which has been restricted to 2G by the Government. 

Petitions challenging restriction of internet to 2G and restoration of 4G have therefore been filed before the Supreme Court and the Court had given its order and had directed the constitution of a “Special Committee” to immediately determine the necessity of continued restriction of mobile internet speeds in Jammu & Kashmir to 2G only and consider the alternatives while determining whether  3G/4G internet could be provided to certain regions on a trial basis.

The administration has however not formed any such committee, and has passed no order reviewing the order of restrictions by the Jammu and Kashmir government. When Foundation of Media Professionals sent a representation to members of the Special Committee on 16 May 2020 and 28 May 2020 asking them to comply with the Supreme Court’s order, the representations were neither acknowledged nor was any response given. Therefore petition has been filed seeking initiation of contempt proceedings and summoning of members of the Special Committee, including the Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs and Chief Secretary, U.T. of Jammu & Kashmir to explain their wilful disobedience of the Supreme Court’s judgement.

An application has also been filed asking for directions to bring on record subsequent orders issued by the U.T. of Jammu & Kashmir under the Temporary Telecom Suspension Rules 2017 after the Supreme Court delivered its judgement on 11 May 2020. 

According to the order of the Apex Court, restrictions on internet access must be temporally and territorially limited to what is absolutely necessary. However, Jammu & Kashmir has directed internet service providers to slow down mobile internet speed to 2G in all districts of Jammu & Kashmir without providing any specific reasons. 

The application has also challenged the Government’s contention that such restriction of internet in the Union Territory hasn’t affected the Covid-19 containment measures and access to education and other online resources. 

According to the applicant, restoration of 4G internet services is a broad based demand which has been endorsed by Ram Madhav, National General Secretary of BJP as well. 

Therefore, directions need to be issued the Jammu & Kashmir administration and Ministry of Home Affairs to notify the Special Committee within three working days and for the Special Committee to determine the issue in three working days, and also to restore 4G internet services in Jammu & Kashmir till the Special Committee issues a decision.

Previously, a plea was filed by Adv Shadan Farasat to restore 4G speed mobile internet services on behalf of NGO Foundation for Media Professionals, challenging the government order restricting internet speed in mobile data services to 2G only, contending that such restriction was in violation of Articles 14, 19, 21 and 21A of the Constitution of India. Another order was passed by the Jammu and Kashmir administration on April 3rd retaining these restrictions on mobile internet till April 15th 2020.

According to the petitioner, during this period of health crisis, the government is under an obligation to ensure access to the “digital infrastructure” that is required to make the Right to Health of citizens, an effective reality. The residents of Jammu and Kashmir are unable to take benefit of the initiatives like the Ministry of Health’s COVID19 dashboard and MyGovIndia’s WhatsApp chatbot which responds to queries and counters the Covid myths with text, infographics and videos. They cannot access potentially life saving information from these services , which is violative of their right to equality, right to freedom and right to life.

The restoration of the 4G service, is also necessary to enable the residents to access the repository of information on internet, and the patients, doctors, and the general public of Jammu and Kashmir to access the latest information, guidelines, advisories, and restrictions about COVID-19 that are being made available and continuously updated online on a daily basis.

Further, the petitioner had also stated that no access to 4G makes it impossible for the residents to follow the government mandated “work from home” policy, especially for businesses in the Information Technology and ITES (IT Enabled Services) sector, and the educational institutions as well. The access to 4G is therefore very crucial to implement the work from home policy being promoted by the government.

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