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4G Internet plea: In SC, J&K admin says most children go to govt schools, don’t use gadgets

Ziraat Times News

Srinagar: Jammu & Kashmir administration has filed its detailed reply to the Supreme Court on the plea seeking restoration of 4G internet connectivity in Jammu & Kashmir as directed by the top court vide order dated April 9.

“It is submitted that restoration of 4G mobile data services will substantially increase the use of social media and other online platforms in uploading/downloading of videos and other propaganda material and their fast circulation, with resultant deterioration in law and order situation in KashmirValley. For any upload/ download of a typically heavy data file, the present speed restrictions increase the time taken or lead to failure….”, the reply contends.

The reply also avers that the contentions of “alleged deprivation of access to education, health care facilities/updates” are incorrect as the administration of J&K is “taking all possible steps to ensure minimum impact of COVID19 is felt”.

In its 32-page response, the administration has maintained that “majority of students of class 1st to 12th are studying in 24018 government schools as compared to 5690 private schools. Further, majority of government school students do not have mobile/smart phones or computers to access the internet.”

The response further argues, “Ministry of HRD Government of India has initiated some technology-based initiatives for e-learning and further proposal is being shared with it for delivering lessons on 16 DD Channels at national level. It is submitted that Tele-classes are aired through Kashmir Channel of Doordarshan Kendra, Srinagar, daily at 4:00 PM and 5:30 pm. The viewership of these tele-classes is satisfactory as most of the households have a television set
and local channel is available even without cable or DTH system. The education department has requested Doordarshan authorities to provide additional time slot of one hour daily so that maximum number of classes covering
maximum number of subjects are aired till physical education commences.”

Pertinetly, the Supreme Court had last week asked J&K administration to file its response on a petition filed by J&K Private Schools Association and Soayib Qureshi, a lawyer.

Stating that the “Right to Access the internet is not a fundamental right” the reply elucidates that it can be curtailed if other Fundamental Rights are effectuated by access to internet such as Freedom of Speech & Expression or Right to Carry out business or trade in abrogation of the “sovereignty” & “security” & “integrity” of India which in turn, lawfully warrants curtailment.

In reply to the hampering of educational facilities, the Government has submitted that though all educational institutions have been closed, teaching facilities are being provided to students largely through “offline mode” and to a very limited extent through online mode. Video lecture series, whatsapp groups chats, phone calls, dissemination of e-content NCERT, tele-classes, CD’s, pen drives etc are thus being utilised.

The Government has answered in its preliminary submissions that it is wary of the “constitutional” & “statutory obligations”, in light of which it has been exercising powers under relevant statutes vis-à-vis The Indian Telegraph Act, 1885′ and ‘The Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services(Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017 (2017 Rules).

“The orders issued, which are placed in public domain, are not only in consonance with the statutory mandate but also in conformity with the directions/guidelines laid down by this Hon’ble Court while imposing restrictions inter-alia, on mobile data/internet services” the reply states.

“It is ensured that the restriction on access to internet is commensurate to the gravity of situation and accords with provisions of section 5 of the Telegraph Act” the Government avers in its reply.

The reply goes on to justify the rationale of the imposition of restrictions in J&K. The administration has averred that while enunciating restrictions, various aspects such as “public safety and interest” as well as the “principle of proportionality” , “extent of reasonibility of restriction”, “available alternatives” and “incitement to any offence /security/sovereignty and integrity of India” are considered.

The reply contends,

“this Hon’ble Court is pleased to accept in Anuradha Bhasin (supra) that the internet could be used to propagate terrorism thereby challenging the sovereignty and integrity of India and was also pleased to recognise that ‘modern terrorism relies heavily on the internet”

The Government has also emphasised that not lifting restrictions gradationally shall be detrimental to India as well as to the general public.

Therefore, the Government has put forth that the rationale of further limiting internet speed are well-founded, keeping in mind the on-ground situation as well as the “material progress of people as a whole”

Various instances of the advantages of restrictions on internet speed are also laid down.

Having limited militant activities, the Government avers that miscreants using different VPNs were “not able to upload files of heavy data containing incriminating and other objectionable videos”

Additionally, the Govt. of J&K states that especially at the time of a pandemic “a fixed-line connection is more appropriate” and clarifies that for any activity dependent on heavy network usage, broadband and fibe-rinternet connectivity is available.

Furthermore, the reply contends that the Administration is spreading awareness & relevant information pertaining to the pandemic among the masses through various means such as by radio broadcasts, hoardings, video spots, pamphlets, handouts, panel discussions on TV etc.

Pointing to the contention of the plea filed by Private Schools Association J&K vis-à-vis inaccessibility to education, the reply avers that a majority of students in J&K are studying in Government schools as compared to private schools, “who in fact, do not have mobile/smart phones or computers to access the internet”.

In this backdrop, the Government has claimed that all platforms such as Twitter, facebook, whatsapp can be effectively used by people of J&K to communicate shortage of any essential commodity.

The Supreme Court had on April 9 issued notice in a plea filed by Foundation of Media Professionals seeking restoration of 4G mobile internet services in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir, in light of the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic.

The matter was to be listed on April 27, incidentally, being the day of extinguishment of order imposing internet restrictions.

On April 27, the administration released an order extending restrictions on 4G internet speed till May 11.

Earlier, April 3, the J&K administration had passed an order to retain the existing restrictions on mobile internet till April 15.

The Central government had imposed a complete communications blackout in the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir in August 2019, right after abrogation of Article 370. Five months later in January 2020, on the basis of a Supreme Court order in the case Anuradha Bhasin v Union of India, the services were partially restored, only at 2G speed for mobile users.

The Supreme Court had thereupon observed that indefinite suspension of internet is “not permissible and restrictions on internet have to follow the principles of proportionality under Article 19(2)”.

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