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Supreme Court’s 4G Internet Order

Topics Covered: Separation of powers between various organs dispute redressal mechanisms and institutions.

Supreme Court’s 4G Internet Order

What to study?

For Prelims: Overview of the verdict, key constitutional provisions involved.

For Mains: Significance and implications of the verdict, concerns it has raised.

Context: Supreme Court on May 11 refused to restore 4G internet in Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir.

  • But, the Court has ordered the Centre and Jammu and Kashmir administration to form a committee of Secretaries from MHA and J&K UT Admin to take a call after reviewing the ground security situation.
  • The high-powered Committee headed by the MHA Secretary will also look into the contentions raised by various petitioners.

Important observations made and rationale behind this verdict:

  • There is a need to ensure that national security and human rights are balanced. J&K UT has plunged into crisis, but at the same time there are concerns related to ongoing pandemic and hardships.
  • The bench also referred to its earlier decision in the Anuradha Bhasin case (2020) wherein it ordered review of restrictions placed in J&K in the wake of abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution.

Background- what’s the issue?

In August 2019, the Central government had suspended all modes of communications in the wake of revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, granted under Article 370. Eventually, services were partially restored, with internet speed restricted to 2G.

A plea was filed by ‘Foundation for Media Professionals’ for restoration of high-speed internet in Jammu and Kashmir in view of the Covid-19 situation.

But, the administration opposed restoration of 4G services in the union territory. It justified its move in view of protecting the sovereignty, integrity and security of the country.

Criticisms against the internet shutdown:

Restrictions have virtually abrogated the fundamental rights and paralyzed the lives of seven million people in the region.

The shutdown of internet services have severe consequences on business, trade and heavily affect the common people in the region.

What procedure does the government follow to suspend Internet services?

The Information Technology Act, 2000, the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), 1973 and the Telegraph Act, 1885 are the three laws that deal with suspension of Internet services.

But before 2017, Internet suspension orders were issued under section 144 of the CrPC.

In 2017, the central government notified the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Service) Rules under the Telegraph Act to govern suspension of Internet. These Rules derive their powers from Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, which talks about interception of messages in the “interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India”.

Anuradha Bhasin case (2020):

The Court declared that the freedom of speech and expression and the freedom to practice any profession or carry on any trade, business or occupation over the medium of Internet enjoys constitutional protection under Article 19(1)(a) and Article 19(1)(g) respectively.

While such freedom is not absolute, the restrictions imposed on it should be in consonance with the mandate under Article 19(2) and Article 19(6) of the Constitution, inclusive of the test of proportionality.

Sources: the Hindu.