access-to-internet-transforms-a-subject-to-a-citizen

Context: Since last one year, people in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) region have not had access to 4G Internet. 

Background:

  • The restriction was placed in the backdrop to the dilution of Article 370 of the Constitution. 
  • This moves were made ostensibly out of a concern for national security, with the aim of thwarting terrorism. 
  • Opinion of the SC:
    • The Supreme Court in its earlier judgements has highlighted that a complete ban of this kind is disproportionate as it impinges on the liberty of an entire populace. 
    • However, the Court has done little to enforce its writ, to do what the Constitution demands - act as an independent check on majoritarian power.

The Supreme Court’s rulings:

Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India (2020)

  • Two primary arguments in the petition: 
    • First, the government had refused to make public its orders blocking the Internet, violating a basic tenet of the rule of law that people have a right to know why their freedoms have been constrained. 
    • Second, empirical evidence demonstrated that there was no link between shutting down the Internet and the state’s objective of protecting security
      • Indeed, available materials pointed the other way: that the Internet was a valuable tool that could be used to counter the spread of incendiary rumours and fake news. 
  • The ruling: The Court held that the ability to access the web had an instrumental bearing on a number of other fundamental rights, including - the rights to free speech and freedom of business under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution. 
    • Therefore any limitation placed on the web must be necessary and proportionate to the goal that the State seeks to achieve
    • This meant that the government now had to produce the orders on the basis of which it was shutting down the Internet. 
  • Outcome: The prohibitory orders were published and a few months after the verdict, 2G Internet was restored.
  • The Court did not hold the government accountable: The court failed to test the blockade on the touchstone of the very constitutional principles that it said were applicable. 
    • Instead, it ordered a weekly review by a committee set up under the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services Rules, 2017.
  • Even the onset of the pandemic, which has shown how instrumental the Internet is in accessing critical services, didn’t lead to a lifting of the ban on 4G.

Foundation for Media Professionals case

  • This time, specific evidence was placed before the Court to show how 4G Internet was indispensable for adequate access to education, medicine, and to the courts.
  • Giving its verdict, the Supreme Court created a new three-member special committee headed by the Union Home Secretary - to take stock of things. 

As the Internet restrictions in J&K are fast approaching their first anniversary, their impact on basic rights of citizens must be taken into account. This will ensure that the people of J & K will not become subjects to be ruled over, but citizens who possess rights against the State.

Source: https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/are-people-in-jk-citizens-or-subjects/article32165013.ece

Image Source: TH