“Question of National Security” has been trending since the imposition of ban on internet services in J & K last year. Restoration of the high-speed internet services in two non- border districts is the latest step taken by the J & K Home Department to ease internet restrictions in less sensitive areas. On Aug 5, 2019 Section 144 was imposed in J&K that restricted the unlawful assembly of more than four people in a particular area. The government declared the revocation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution which gave J&K a special status within the Indian union. The government also decided to bifurcate the state into two Union Territories; Ladakh and J & K passing the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act, 2019.
Most of the internet shutdowns in J & K were in reaction to gunfights between security forces and terrorist groups. In some situations, the web or internet was not accessible in some areas as a "preventive measure" on 26th January or given the death anniversaries of people such as Burhan Wani, a member of terrorist group Hizbul Mujahideen, and Mirwaiz Qazi Nissar Ahmad, founder of socio-religious organization Ummat-e-Islami (UeI). A remarkable blackout also occurred after the Pulwama attack, in which a Jaish-e-Mohammed suicide bomber rammed an explosive-laden vehicle into a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) bus killing 45 Indian paramilitary personnel.
Role of Judiciary in the Restoration Process:
On 10th January, 2020 in Anuradha Bhasin v. UOI (2020), the SC issued certain guidelines regarding the imposition of restrictions on the internet in a proportionate manner. The petitioners also pleaded that shutting down all the online communications and restrictions on movement along with the restrictions imposed upon the journalist to practice journalism is a direct infringement of Article 19(1) (a) as Right to internet is a part of Article 19 (1) (a) and freedom of press under Article 19(1) (a). The SC highlighted that suspension of the internet services for an indefinite period will not be entertained under Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Service) Rules, 2017. Later on, again the SC was approached to address the sensitive issue on national security and human rights where these two eminent factors were to be maintained and balanced.
The mobile internet in Jammu and Kashmir was made available after the said January 10th judgment, at low 2G speed. A plea was filed by the Foundation for Media Professionals and Private Schools Association after Anuradha Bhasin’s case. This case of Foundation of Media Professionals v. Union of India & Anr (2020) that is popularly known as the 4G case relates to the blanket ban on the usage of 4G or 3G internet services across Jammu & Kashmir. The petitioners pleaded that such ban led to the violation of the fundamental right to education of the students and other educational professionals in the region by making online learning (including online classes etc.) non-accessible for them (Art. 21A of Constitution), health and business of the people of the region.
Sr. Adv. Salman Khurshid stated that the “Private schools are under government directions to provide education via video-conferencing. We have an obligation under Right to Education Act to provide education”. Ultimately, the SC held that there must be a “balance between national security concerns and human rights of the general public”.
High-speed internet services in J&K were suspended last year in August. Although, the Centre restored 2G services in J&K on January, 2020 after Anuradha Bhasin’s case but later announced the setting up of a special committee for the restoration of 4G internet on the directions issued by the Supreme Court. After several rounds of hearing, the Centre informed SC that the panel has decided to resume 4G on a trial in limited areas after August 15, 2020.
The Jammu and Kashmir Home Department had recently gave an order that high-speed mobile internet services will be restored in Gerderbal District of Kashmir and Udhampur of Jammu region on trial basis that will last till September 8th, 2020. Gerdelbal district is a Muslim dominant Kashmir Valley whereas Udhampur is a Hindu dominant Jammu region. The J&K administration will resume 4G internet services in two non-border districts with low level of violence in August 2020. One is Jammu district and another from Kashmir will be chosen for this purpose. Lieutenant governor Manoj Sinha recently after a short visit to New Delhi returned to Srinagar had been consulted before identifying the districts and he formed the Committee for the economic revival of J & K to evaluate the overall economic scenario of J & K.
The restoration is a consequence of the step taken by the Central Government to form a special committee for looking upon the said matter. This order stated that high-speed internet services shall be provided to postpaid subscribers whereas pre-paid subscribers have to complete the verification process. The restoration of high internet services have been made with regards to the less sensitive geographical areas as yet the security circumstance is not conducive to restore the mobile internet services completely.