Hearing petitions challenging the lockdown in J&K following the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5 last year, the Supreme Court on Friday passed a series of orders directing the government to review its decisions. The court said internet services are intrinsic to the right to free speech and cannot be suspended without providing reason and duration. The government was also asked to review within seven days all orders directing suspension of internet services. The Court also ordered the restoration of all government and local body websites where abuse of internet is minimal. The apex court also ordered the J&K administration to restore internet services in all institutions providing essential services like hospitals, educational centres.
Importantly, the SC said mere expression of dissent or disagreement against a government decision cannot be a reason for internet gag and directed the government to give detailed reason whenever it decides to suspend the internet, so that aggrieved persons could challenge the decision in an appropriate court.
These are important orders and normally should pave way for the eventual lifting of communication blockade in Kashmir within a week. Kashmir has been under internet gag for the past five months and there is little indication that the government would restore the service anytime soon. And this has not only disconnected the Valley from the rest of the world but is also taking a huge toll on businesses and education.
Responding to this situation, the state government has recently only selectively released broadband service to some businesses, a few IT companies and major hospitals, but this has changed nothing on the ground. The overall absence of the internet has disrupted life. In this time and age, it is impossible to have a normal life without internet. Internet is part of the warp and woof of modern life. Be it businesses, healthcare, education, internet facilitates everything. And Kashmir is now without this facility for more than months now.
Even the local newspapers don’t have internet access in their offices. They download most of their content at the Media Centre on pen drives and reproduce the same in their newspapers with some skeletal reports on the local situation.
Businesses have been worst hit. In a recent statement, Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries had termed the internet “a basic need”. The trading group had also pegged the loss to economy due to continuing shutdown and communication blockade at around Rs 12000 crore in four months.
One can only hope that the Supreme court orders finally prevail on the government to restore internet. Further delay in restoration will only prolong the misery of people and deepen the alienation among people.