The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked Centre and Jammu and Kashmir administration to file their responses by April 27 on a plea seeking restoration of 4G internet services in the Union territory in view of prevailing Covid-19 pandemic.
The top court was told that due to non-availability of 4G services, several aspects are affected including medical facilities and education services.
The Centre opposed the plea by telling the apex court that it is a question of national security as militancy still poses a serious threat in Jammu and Kashmir and cited a recent incident where hundreds of people gathered in the valley for a funeral of a militant killed by security forces.
A bench of Justices N V Ramana, R Subhash Reddy and B R Gavai asked Attorney General K K Venugopal, appearing for the Centre and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing Jammu and Kashmir administration, to file a detailed reply on affidavits by April 27 after assessing the ground situation.
At the outset, the bench enquired from the parties about the status of a 4G services related case, which was taken suo motu (on its own) by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court.
Senior advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, appearing for petitioner -- 'Foundation for Media Professionals'-- said that his petition concerns only with restoration of 4G services in Jammu and Kashmir.
He informed the bench that in the suo motu case taken by the High Court, notice has been issued and it deals with whole gamut of matters in which 4G internet services is one of the issue.
He elaborated the need for 4G services and said for effective video conferencing facility to consult doctors in case of any health emergency, it was the need of the hour.
The senior advocate said that having access to 4G services and being able to consult doctors in time would help in saving lives.
He added that the second aspect is of educations as without 4G internet services, schools are facing problems in holding virtual classes for the students during the lockdown period.
The bench, then asked Ahmadi as how many Covid-19 cases are there in Jammu and Kashmir as of now.
The senior advocate replied, as of now around 354 cases have been reported.
Mehta said he needs a week time to file a reply to the petition.
Venugopal, who raised the issue of national security and threat of militancy, said that there are lots of problems and recently a terrorist was killed by security forces and around 500 people gathered for his funeral.
The bench asked both -- Attorney General and Solicitor General -- to clear the stand of the Centre and the Jammu and Kashmir administration by filing the affidavits.
Mehta said he would like to file a consolidated detailed affidavit on the issue after which the bench posted the matter for further hearing on April 27.
Ahmadi intervened and said since the Attorney General has raised the issue of national security, the internet restriction could be there in the areas where there are problems but it cannot be extended to the entire state.
Advocate Charu Ambwani, appearing for petitioner 'Private Schools Association of Jammu and Kashmir', also seeking restoration of 4G internet services in the union territory, said at present 2200 schools are unable to hold classes.
She said that future of over 20 lakhs students of the state are at stake as they cannot study due to unavailability of proper internet connectivity.
The bench, said since it has asked both, Centre and Jammu and Kashmir administration to file their reply; it would like to first go through it.
On April 9, the top court had issued notice to Centre and J&K administration on the plea of 'Foundation for Media Professionals' which has assailed an order of the J&K administration on March 26 that restricted the internet speed to 2G only in the UT.
The plea filed through advocate Shadan Farasat, while seeking restoration of 4G internet services, alleged that the action of the government was violative of Articles 14 (right to equality), 19 (freedom of speech) and 21 (right to life) of the Constitution.
Terming 2G telephone services as "outdated", the plea said 4G internet speed would be useful in ensuring information flow to the citizens in view of the coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic.
"The advent of the COVID-19 global pandemic has fundamentally altered the existing situation. At present, the following facts exist: first, COVID-19 exists in India, and is a highly infectious and communicable disease. Research into its origins and the best ways of tackling this disease is ongoing, and there is a continuing flow of new information about how best to contain the fall out of the virus, and limit its spread and impact," it said.
The slow internet speed also renders telemedicine or online video consultation impossible, it said. "The right to internet connectivity has repeatedly been recognised by the Government of India as a basic necessity or an essential service to ensure the right to health," the plea said and referred to the National Telecom Policy in support of its contention.
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