SC issues notice in FMP’s petition seeking restoration of 4G internet services in Jammu & Kashmir during COVID-19 crisis #KeepUsOnline

Tl;dr

Foundation for Media Professionals had filed a petition before the Supreme Court for restoration of 4G internet services in Jammu & Kashmir on 31 March 2020. The petition was finally listed for hearing today i.e. 9 April 2020 before a 3 judge bench of NV Ramana J., Subhash Reddy J. and BR Gavai J. During the hearing, the bench issued notice and the matter will be heard next after one week.

Background

Foundation for Media Professionals had filed a petition before the Supreme Court for restoration of 4G internet services in Jammu and Kashmir on 31 March 2020. The petition contended that the internet slowdown in Jammu & Kashmir during the COVID-19 crisis violated fundamental rights to healthcare, education, livelihood and justice guaranteed by the Constitution of India.

Despite the COVID-19 crisis gripping the country, the government has continued directing internet service providers to slow down internet speed in Jammu & Kashmir to 2G by citing security concerns. The most recent of these orders issued under the Telecom Suspension Rules 2017 was issued on 03 April 2020 and it is due to expire on 15 April 2020.

2G is an outdated technology which was phased out in 2008 with the launch of 3G, and most modern websites and applications are too heavy to properly run on a 2G internet connection. While 4G internet services provide download speed of 150-300 Mbps, 2G internet services only provide download speed of upto 384 Kbps.

Due to denial of 4G internet services, healthcare professionals and ordinary people in Jammu & Kashmir have been unable to access the latest information about treatment and management of COVID-19 and relief measures. Further, patients are forced to flock to hospitals, which are hotbeds of infection, to consult doctors about COVID-19 and other ailments. This is because 2G internet services cannot support telemedicine which requires video to visually examine the patient.

In addition to its impact on healthcare, the internet slowdown in Jammu & Kashmir is also preventing children from continuing their education through online tools. Children in the region have already suffered major disruption to their education due to the communication shutdown and lockdown imposed on 05 August 2019 after abrogation of Article 370. The COVID-19 crisis has forced schools to shut down again after re-opening earlier this year.

The government has fully embraced use of technology to combat the pandemic and it has launched a COVID-19 dashboard, WhatsApp chatbot and contact tracing app to widely disseminate accurate and latest information to the public and track spread of the disease. However, at 2G speed, the people of Jammu & Kashmir may be unable to access life saving information through these tools. For instance, the WhatsApp chatbot responds to queries with text, infographics and videos but downloading images and videos is difficult without 4G internet services.

Hearing before Supreme Court

During today's hearing, a 3 judge bench of NV Ramana J., Subhash Reddy J. and BR Gavai J. issued notice to the standing counsel of Jammu & Kashmir and listed the matter for hearing after one week. This was the same bench which had earlier decided Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India, which related to the communication shutdown imposed in Jammu & Kashmir on 05 August 2019.

Senior Advocate, Mr. Huzefa Ahmadi represented the Foundation for Media Professionals during the hearing and we are extremely grateful to him for his efforts. We would also like to thank the wider legal team comprising of Advocate on Record, Shadan Farasat and Advocates, Vrinda Bhandari, Jahnavi Sindhu, Gautam Bhatia and Devdutta Mukhopadhyay who worked on this petition. IFF’s Executive Director and Advocate, Apar Gupta was also personally present with the Senior Advocate during today’s hearing which happened via video conferencing.

Important Documents

  1. Writ petition filed by FMP (link)

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