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