Internet slowdown in Jammu and Kashmir could cost lives during COVID 19 pandemic #KeepUsOnline

Tl;dr

IFF wrote to the Jammu and Kashmir Government and Ministry of Home Affairs seeking restoration of 4G internet services in Jammu and Kashmir during the COVID 19 crisis. The region is already struggling to recover from the six month long shutdown imposed on 5 August 2019 and several of its key healthcare indicators are below the national average. Therefore, immediate restoration of 4G internet services in the region is necessary to prevent spread of the virus through telemedicine and effective public outreach.

Free and Open Internet for All

(Screenshot of ToI's tweet before it was deleted)

Yesterday, the Times of India tweeted that 4G internet services had been restored in Jammu and Kashmir but it subsequently deleted the tweet and published another article about this information being false. This led to considerable confusion and it once again brought into sharp focus the continued deprivation of rights suffered by the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

While the rest of India transitions to work from home and relies on the internet to seek latest COVID 19 information and stay in touch with loved ones, the internet is still being slowed down to 2G speed in Jammu and Kashmir.  Jammu and Kashmir already has 7 confirmed COVID 19 cases. With these figures expected to rise exponentially in the next few weeks, the Government must make all tools including high speed internet available to doctors and patients to save lives.  

Dashboards and Chatbots for All

While responding to the COVID 19 crisis, the Indian Government has embraced technology to disseminate accurate and updated information to panic struck citizens. Take for instance, the Ministry of Health’s COVID 19 dashboard which provides latest state-wise figures and guidelines for different stakeholders. The Ministry of Health and MyGovIndia have also collaborated with WhatsApp to launch a chat box which will address queries of concerned citizens through text, infographics and video. Even private players like Apollo Hospitals have developed tech tools which allow people to assess their risk of developing COVID 19 through a mobile app. However, the residents of Jammu and Kashmir may be unable to access such life-saving information because the Government is slowing down their internet speed to 2G which makes it very difficult to download videos and heavy files.

Telemedicine for All

The difficulty in communicating through video on a 2G internet connection also means that doctors in Jammu and Kashmir cannot use telemedicine. During pandemics, hospitals become hotbeds of infection and any effective containment strategy must limit the number of persons visiting hospitals. Reducing the number of visitors in hospitals is only possible if doctors are able to remotely assess and monitor the condition of patients who do not require intensive care. However, remote consultations which require video facilities to visually examine the patient are practically impossible with slow 2G internet services.

Healthcare is a fundamental right and accessing healthcare through the internet also enjoys constitutional protection. The essential nature of internet services during this period is also demonstrated by the Ministry of Home Affairs classification of telecom and internet services as necessities during the 21 day lockdown. Therefore, depriving the people of Jammu and Kashmir of meaningful internet connectivity during a pandemic is completely unconscionable and the Government must immediately restore 4G services to reduce suffering and loss of life.

Important Documents

  1. Representation dated 26.03.2020 sent to J&K Home Department and Ministry of Home Affairs (link)

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