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.”(Kashmir Monitor)

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