A Fundamental Right

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The J&K administration has told the Supreme Court that the right to internet is not a fundamental right and that the degree of access for exercising free speech and for carrying on any trade or business can be curtailed.The administration was responding to the case filed in the court seeking restoration of 4G internet. The administration further told court that the protection of sovereignty and integrity of India and ensuring security of India are sound grounds to bar the access to the internet.

A plea before the Supreme Court by a not-for-profit organization Foundation for Media Professionals said the lack of 4G internet was causing difficulties for the general public during the Covid-19 outbreak. However, the government contended the plea was misconceived as all information related to Covid-19 could be accessed on fixed line internet not barred by speed restrictions. The government said the decision as to whether a controlled access to internet is still warranted depends on the ground situation.

Government’s contention goes against the Supreme Court’s judgement on January 10 where it termed the access to information and freedom of trade and commerce via internet as fundamental right under the constitution of India. Following this order, the government had eased the ban on internet. Ever since the government has begun a gradual easing of the internet ban. But as things have turned out, this isn’t such an easing too.

And this is inflicting a terrible economic cost on Kashmir and almost wrecking education of the children, who neither can study online nor access online classes.

The government, therefore, needs to rethink the internet ban in its entirety. Six months ban is the longest denial of what the apex court has termed as a fundamental right. Kashmir has been largely calm during this period as acknowledged by the government itself. It is time that the government too decides to relax its stranglehold on the freedoms of the people. No matter what the government says, its security argument to keep 4G internet suspended isn’t convincing enough. Truth is it has been months since the Valley has witnessed a protest or a stone-throwing incident. So, to say that 4G will pose threat to security doesn’t hold water.

Also, government also needs to give people a free access to internet as part of the measures to fight ongoing health emergency. While on the one hand, government has locked the region down so that Covid-19 doesn’t spread, it is restricting what should have been its main tool to spread awareness. More than preventive measures, it is how much people are informed about the disease that will help the government to control the disease. Hence the urgent need for a high speed internet.

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