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Internet Ban Amidst The COVID-19 Crisis

Foundation for Media Professionals v. Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir & Anr.


Introduction

Internet services were restricted in Jammu & Kashmir following the abolition of its special status enabled. It has been more than seven months since the restrictions were put to curb fake news and modern terrorist activities. Owing to the current COVID-19 Pandemic, the entire country has been under a lockdown. At this time, the importance of internet connectivity becomes even more important. Restricting internet usage to 2G services seems insufficient to disseminate information.


Facts of the case

The court had to deal with two important issues, in this case, National security and Human rights. The aggrieved parties approached the court seeking 4G services and quashing of the impugned orders restricting the internet services in the Union Territory. They claimed that the restriction violates their fundamental rights, which is disproportionately applied throughout the UT and does not adhere to the procedural requirements.

The respondents claimed that the restrictions are absolutely necessary to protect national security. The fundamental rights claim needs to be balanced with the interests of the public.


Arguments

The petitioners argued that the internet restrictions along with the lockdown violate their fundamental rights. It has a huge impact on the right to health, education, business, freedom, and expression. It becomes very difficult to circulate information and health advisories to people.

It was also argued that the respondents have not followed the directions laid down in Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India. Moreover, there is a failure on the part of respondents to prove that all the districts need a blanket ban.

The attorney general put forth the argument that the claims for fundamental rights need to be seen with the greater public interest to protect national security. Hence, it is not feasible to remove the restrictions and provide all the services to the people. The region has been suffering from continuous insurgencies. Restriction-free internet service would not be viable when cyber-terrorism is on the rise. It was also pointed out that they have fully complied with the procedures. Alternate measures are also being provided by the government to circulate information related to COVID-19.


Judgment

While agreeing with the need to have good internet connectivity during the lockdown, the court emphasized the importance of balancing fundamental rights and national interest. The infiltration by outside forces has to lead to the death of many innocents and it can’t be avoided.

The petitioners questioned the validity of the blanket ban. Deliberating on the territorial extent of the restriction, the court noted its observation made in Anuradha Bhasin; the orders must only be passed in cases of necessity and with regards to the affected areas. But again, the cross border terrorism and modern cyber terrorism are sensitive issues and cannot be avoided.

Finally, the court noted that a review committee made of just state-level officers cannot successfully deal with the issues at hand. A special committee shall be formed and it would constitute both national and state-level officers. The committee shall look into the issues and determine the fate of the restrictions and shall also test whether the alternative suggestions made by the petitioners with respect to easing up of the restrictions are appropriate or not.


Analysis

The Judgment was a controversial one and was immediately criticized. It was seen as an abdication of judicial responsibility. Writer Gautam Bhatia pointed out that the “executive will decide whether the executive violated the fundamental rights or not. Political branches in most cases cannot restrain themselves.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kruti Kachhwaha, 2nd Year BA LL.B (Honours) Student from Institute of Law, Nirma University

Edited by:- Vijayalakshmi Raju

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