Kashmir journalists protest
Kashmiri journalists protest in Srinagar against the internet shutdown | Photo: File photo. by special arrangement
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After a day-long hearing Monday, the Supreme Court reserved its judgment on a plea to restore 4G internet in Jammu and Kashmir. The judgment, whenever it comes, will either buttress or junk the fact that high-speed internet is a fundamental right now, which the Supreme Court upheld earlier this year.

The case is also important because the petitioners have argued that in the absence of 4G internet, healthcare and education in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir is taking a hit.

But the outcome of the petition will, most importantly, also show if India’s Supreme Court will allow go unchallenged the specious claims made by the Narendra Modi government on why the residents in the erstwhile state don’t deserve 4G internet, something that residents of other parts of the country get normally.

The Centre’s and the UT administration’s arguments, advanced by Attorney General K.K. Venugopal, ranged from fallacious to down-right flippant, which the judges routinely see through and normally ignore.


Also read: Supreme Court judges gushing over Modi is a problem for judiciary and democracy


Link with terrorism

To link 4G internet and other restrictions with a possible surge in terrorism in the militancy-hit region is an argument both silly and misplaced. When demonetisation happened in 2016, we were told it was, among other things, aimed at checking terror funding. The recent spate of militant attacks in J&K seems to suggest that the claim, like several others, was just an empty boast.

When, in August last year, the Modi government decided to dilute Article 370, amid much chest-thumping, India was assured it would be the last nail in the coffin of corruption and terrorism in J&K. Very little has changed on the ground.

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While brave personnel of the Army, J&K Police and paramilitary forces continue to lose their lives in the fight against militancy in the Valley, senior police and civil administration officers keep parroting the line that militancy is on its proverbial last legs.

But, in its desperation, a clueless government seems to be clutching at the straws, now linking terrorism with high-speed internet. What next: cinema and TV? Who knows militants and their sympathisers could be drawing ideas from TV series and movies?

The Supreme Court would do well to see through the absurdity of the Modi government’s claims. The judges should ask the simple question: Does a ban on internet really help check terrorism? For six months, after August 2019, when the Centre decided to dilute Article 370 and bifurcate the erstwhile state into two UTs, J&K didn’t have any internet. Mobile internet with 2G service was restored in January. But militants continue with their activities as they did in the late 80s and also in 90s, when the state didn’t have mobile internet or broadband.

Even senior advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, counsel for the petitioner, underlined this. “Most of the terrorist activities happened in J&K during the 1990s when there was no internet,” he told the bench.


Also read: India’s VIP culture is on full display even in Modi’s ‘stringent’ lockdown


In the name of national interest

During the hearing, Venugopal again invoked the two words that we keep hearing almost on a daily basis – national interest. Unfortunately, in many cases, the courts have also come to accept national interest as an alibi to allow the government to get away with its unconstitutional or arbitrary actions. In doing so, the courts also ignore the fact that their job is to protect the rights of the citizens, and not accepting every misleading or false claim the government makes in the name of protecting national interest.

The AG Venugopal went a step ahead, making a ridiculous claim that the ban on 4G internet was stopping the enemy from gaining information about “troop movement”. “This is about protection of the lives of the entirety of the population of J&K. Yesterday, there were some tragic events. These men could easily take videos of the troop movements because they were trusted. The enemy could know the troop movements if they had 4G,” he told the court.

The learned lawyer and those guiding his arguments didn’t seem to understand that the enemy, in these technology-driven times, doesn’t need 4G internet to get information about troop movement. Satellites do that for you now.


Also read: Ban on high-speed internet not proving enough to prevent rising violence in Kashmir


Denying internet means denying essentials

Do citizens of J&K have right to healthcare and education?

While deciding the case, the bench must be mindful of the fact that citizens of India enjoy the right to education and healthcare.

In these trying, Covid-hit times, when internet-enabled laptops and mobile phones are the only source of education via virtual classrooms, the government should have been ensuring that the young, impressionable minds of J&K received facilities at par with those residing in the rest of the country.

Ditto for healthcare and businesses.

In fact, ensuring this, apart from the symbolism that it carries, is also the government’s constitutional mandate. And, if for some short-sighted reason the government chooses not to do its duty, the court has the duty to step in.


Also read: Access to internet is not a fundamental right but an enabler of rights, J&K govt tells SC


Hope in judiciary

In its 10 January judgment on the issue of internet access in J&K, the Supreme Court bench comprising Justices N.V. Ramana, B. Subhash Reddy and B.R. Gavai noted that the court’s limited scope was to “strike a balance between the liberty and security concerns so that the right to life is secured and enjoyed in the best possible manner”. It also, while noting that “liberty and security have always been at loggerheads”, underlined the need to ensure that “pendulum of preference (between security and liberty) should not swing in either extreme direction so that one preference compromises the other”.

Since it is the same bench that heard the 4G matter Monday, one hopes it would remember its own words.

The bench had held that internet access was a fundamental right and the only way the government could curtail it was by applying the test of mandate under Article 19 (2) and (6) of the Constitution, inclusive of the test of proportionality.

It is time the Supreme Court junks the arguments advanced by the Modi government and reiterate the law as laid down by it.

The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal.

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26 Comments Share Your Views

26 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for doing what other media houses are not. Never stop, you are the only one who is publishing these articles

  2. I really think this article touches a lot of pain points.

    Being from Jammu and Kashmir, I confirm the situation is worse than this. Not only education and healthcare but almost all of the economy here in state is affected. You can not use debit/credit cards here, because POS machines run on internet, Stock markets are inaccessible. Online education is not possible. Online doctor consultations are not possible. Students not able to fill forms for some exams, study material is not accessible, Work from home demands stable internet connection for conference calls – not possible. And anybody who says it is possible over 2G (150Kbps) speeds is either government or a fool.

    Even if government was to argue that high-speed internet is undermining the peace (which is a myth and a propoganda), then also why not just block access to certain affected areas and why the whole state?

    Is it fair to 1.2 crore people of the state?

    I don’t have much expectations with Modi government (at least not any more) but what makes me anxious and disheartened is when Courts and law are unable to prevail. As a common taxpaying citizen of the country, I feel helpless.

    • Thank you for letting us know how things are from your perspective. I’m very sad to see what’s happening in India under BJP-Modi-Shah.

      • And the thing is that not even the people of india are supporting us . Even the media is sold out, Thanks for your concerns when the people of our country dont even care about us.

  3. I think this article touches a lot of pain points.

    Being from Jammu and Kashmir, I confirm the situation is worse than this. Not only education and healthcare but almost all of the economy here in state is affected. You can not use debit/credit cards here, because POS machines run on internet, Stock markets are inaccessible. Online education is not possible. Online doctor consultations are not possible. Students not able to fill forms for some exams, study material is not accessible, Work from home demands stable internet connection for conference calls – not possible. And anybody who says it is possible over 2G (150Kbps) speeds is either government or a fool.

  4. It’s not militancy moron.

    It’s terrorism with a tinge of jihad, radicalism and wahabism.

    The cure for valley is two folded

    Execute all terrorist their conspirators accessories the way Russia handled Chechnya.

    Make jihadis and wahabis a true minority by changing demography to reclaim thousands of year of lost heritage.

    Again this is not a political issue but a religious one and has to be treated as such.

  5. Ethnic cleansing was done before mobile ever existed in Kashmir. Just in case anyone doesn’t like to speak truth.

  6. Why aren’t the comments visible as a default? The are visible only when we write something. Is there a glitch or is this the normal?

  7. It is a fallacy to attribute gaining an education or lack of in J& K to the availability of 4G. Who can forget the self imposed closure of educational institutions for 3 months post the repelling of Art 370? And how did Chibber decide that militancy has peaked? Only a moron will discount the role of internet and social media in the spread and operation of millitancy. The more advanced the technology more difficult to track and eliminate.

    • Dear mob-lyncher… How did you decide that it is a ‘fallacy’??? Did you even read the article properly before posting your 50 paisa comment?

      • It is in English bro, and difficult to comprehend for the likes of you. Online classes are being held by schools in 2G also, and I thought this was common knowledge. But to expect baby murderers like you to have it is my bad.

  8. Democracy? / One Party System/ Fascism.
    BJP captured almost all institution, the Judiciary / courts under fear & no longer free, Police infected, Election commissioners, some of Arm
    forces personnel also providing politically support misuse with the Constitution. Electoral process through EVM guarantee BJP win.

    • Aqeel Ahmed is a rabid Muslim separatist, educated in a madarsa, and who tries to comment in English. He is a part of the same group of anti-CAA protesters, who collectively murders an innocent baby of 4 months, by starving it as well as exposing it to the bitter could. Never believe such monsters, where they enjoy biryani, while murdering children.

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