In 2020, the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) issued several orders slowing down internet speed to 2G from 4G. Subsequently, the Union Territory has frequently been suspending the internet, without complying with directions of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India, (2020) 3 SCC 637. With legal assistance from IFF, the Private School Association of J&K (Association), an association of over 3800 schools, approached the Supreme Court challenging these orders, highlighting how the frequent suspension of internet services affects the right to education of students. Advocate on Record, Mr. Shadan Farasat appeared on behalf of the Association. On October 17th, 2022, a bench led by Justice Gavai of the Supreme Court heard Mr. Farasat, and directed the Home Department of J&K to provide their response within 4 weeks.
Why should you care?
The internet is a fundamental right, and by definition, restrictions on internet services are an infringement on your fundamental rights. The internet is also necessary to exercise other rights, such as the right to education. This has especially been the case since the pandemic when schools used the internet as a mode of providing education. During that period, restriction on internet services to 2G meant that thousands of students could not access classes. While offline classes and 4G services have now resumed, frequent and arbitrary restrictions on internet services continue to affect students who need the internet to submit assignments, search for information, access books and contact parents / teachers. The Association has highlighted these important concerns before the Supreme Court.
The petition before the Supreme Court
The Association’s petition, which was filed in 2020, but only came up for hearing on October 17, 2022, assails the legality of specific orders issued by the Union Territory of J&K restricting mobile data services to 2G in 18 out of 20 districts of J&K. While those orders which restricted mobile data services to 2G have now been withdrawn, the Petition also assails legality of all subsequent orders that have been passed or maybe passed, without adherence to Anuradha Bhasin guidelines. Although 4G mobile data services are available across J&K, the Executive continues to suspend the internet, regularly violating Supreme Court’s directions in Anuradha Bhasin. Accordingly, the Association in its Petition argued that:
- Internet restriction orders violate the law: Union Territory of J&K has suspended internet services without publishing orders despite express direction from the Supreme Court to do so in Anuradha Bhasin. Moreover, the Union Territory of J&K has never published orders of the review committee, which must record its opinion on the legality of internet shutdown orders. This is again in violation of directions in Anuradha Bhasin.
- Internet restriction orders are not suitable to attain better law and order outcomes: The Union Territory of J&K purportedly suspends internet services to address security concerns. The Association has pointed out that research has shown that shutdowns incentivise violent collective actions, which require less coordination than peaceful demonstrations. Moreover, the internet is an agnostic medium which could be used to spread misinformation but also could be used to debunk rumours and provide truthful information.
- Restriction on internet services violates the Right to Education: During and since the pandemic, the internet has become necessary to access education. Articles 21 and 21A guarantees the right to education. However, frequent suspension of internet services either entirely prohibits the students from exercising their right to education or imposes severe restrictions on it.
Proceedings before the Supreme Court
The petition was filed in 2020. However, it has come up for hearing only for the first time on October 17, 2022. A bench of the Supreme Court consisting of Justice Gavai and Justice B.R. Gavai and Justice B.V. Nagarathna heard the Petition. Advocate on Record appeared on behalf of the Association. He pointed out that while orders restricting mobile data speeds to 2G have lapsed, the Union Territory of J&K continues to suspend internet services in violation of the Supreme Court’s decision in Anuradha Bhasin and applicable law.
The Court directed the Home Department of J&K to respond within 4 weeks. We are grateful to Advocate on Record, Mr. Shadan Farasant for appearing on behalf of the Association. He was assisted by Vrinda Bhandari, Abhinav Sekhri, Tanmay Singh, Krishnesh Bapat and Dhruv Bhatnagar.
- Writ Petition filed by Private School Association of J&K. (link)