‘Let them open 4G for a week…’, SC told; apex court reserves order

Supreme Court of India
Supreme Court of India

NEW DELHI — The Supreme Court on Monday reserved its order on a batch of petitions seeking restoration of 4G Internet services in Jammu and Kashmir, claiming the 2G service available in the Union Territory is not sufficient for education and business purposes amid the ongoing coronavirus-induced lockdown.

A three-judge bench headed by Justice NV Ramana said that it is taking into consideration all the issues in the matter and that it does not require any additional material in the case. “We will pass appropriate orders in the case,” Justice Ramana said.

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During the hearing, attorney general KK Venugopal appearing for the Central government said that the orders that have been passed specifically stated that restrictions of Internet speed are required for national security.

Venugopal said that it’s about the protection of the lives of the entirety of the population of Jammu and Kashmir and not just the COVID-19 patients.

“Terrorists are being pushed into the country. Yesterday, there were some tragic events also. 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,” Venugopal told the court.

The attorney general said that the petitions have to be examined against the larger public interest of national security, adding that national security is paramount and those tasked with protecting national security must be the sole judges in the matter. “The matters of policy decision cannot be interfered with by the court. It must be left to the government,” Venugopal added.

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Lawyer Huzefa Ahmadi, appearing for one of the petitioners, told the court that the COVID-19 situation in J&K has worsened and added that problems are being faced by doctors who cannot access necessary information about coronavirus treatment due to the internet speed. 75 doctors have also made a representation, flagging the same concerns, Ahmadi said.

Justice Ramana said that the government is saying the people can rely on the landline broadband connection, to which Ahmadi responded by saying broadband connections account for less than one percent of the total internet connections in J&K.

“There are around approximately 1 lakh 32 thousand broadband landline connections in J&K, but more than one crore phone/internet connections. The total number of broadband connections in J&K account for less than 1 percent of the total internet connections,” he said.

Justice BR Gavai, another judge in the bench, said that the numbers are not in dispute but it’s a legal question of balance and the government is raising security concerns.

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Justice Ramana said that the Central government is claiming that there has been a surge in militant activities and they have collaborated via 4G. Ahmadi responded by saying that the militant activities were more in the 1990s when there was no internet at all.

Ahmadi submitted that the Centre is arguing that the national security may be compromised, but they have not been able to show any direct nexus in the case. “Let them open internet speeds for a week and see if there is any nexus with terrorism,” Ahmadi said.

Senior lawyer Salman Khurshid, appearing for another petitioner in the matter, said that private schools are under government directions to provide education via video-conferencing. “We have an obligation under the Right to Education to provide education,” Khurshid said.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said that the Central government had started with a complete lockdown and then brought in relaxations by allowing movement, followed by landline and then 2G internet services.

Notably, internet services were suspended in J&K in August last year after the abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcation of the erstwhile State into two Union Territories of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir. While the 2G services on mobile phones and broadband have been restored, 4G services still remain suspended.

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