SC on Internet curbs in J&K

Kashmir Times. Dated: 1/11/2020 12:07:58 PM

J&K government should decisions on media and communication curbs in view of SC recognizing Internet access as basic right

The Supreme Court (SC) verdict on media and communication curbs in Kashmir, while deciding on a petition filed by Kashmir Times and a bunch of other petitions clubbed together, is a landmark judgement in many ways. It is significant because it lays down the basic principles with respect to the fundamental rights of the Indian citizens. The Supreme Court in the Kashmir lockdown matter has laid down that the Right to access Internet is part of freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a). It's a basic right and cannot be denied. The SC has thus upheld the right to internet access as a fundamental right. It also questions the use of arbitrary powers by the state in imposing these curbs including restrictions like Section 144 CrPC and also principally questions the right of the state in perpetuating these curbs for a prolonged period. In observing that all the orders banning Internet shutdown and orders issued under section 144 of the CrPC should be made public so that any aggrieved may challenge them, the apex court has upheld the right of an ordinary citizen to make the all powerful state accountable. The court while laying down that any order suspending internet service permanently is impermissible in law, has also held that the state must bring into public domain valid reasons for exercising and imposing curbs that impact people's freedom. The three basic principles the Supreme Court laid down on Friday are hugely significant and are likely to have a bearing on attempts by the governments to infringe upon the rights of the public on one pretext or the other. While it also revives hopes of restoration of internet services and relaxation of other curbs in Jammu and Kashmir, there has been no relief for the people of the state in the immediate sense because the operative part of the judgement has for now put the ball in the court of the state government, asking it to review all orders banning internet within a week in view of the law laid down by it. The relief for the people impacted by the communication and other curbs is yet to be delivered.
Secondly, this verdict on fundamental rights has come after a prolonged period of 160 days of communication blackout, which is perhaps the longest in the world. Justice delayed is justice denied, it is said. For more than five months, all the service sectors in Jammu and Kashmir have been badly hit. The imposition of restrictions and ban on communications has severely impeded education sector, research, health sector and the media industry. It is unfortunate that a large number of people running into thousands have been rendered jobless due to communication blackout. Several media organizations have become inactive and they have been forced to shutdown their offices and working due to absence of Internet connectivity throwing many media practitioners jobless. The media persons have not been allowed to earn their livelihood due to these restrictions, which have been place by the orders of the state government without any accountability to the common masses. The Supreme Court has also taken note of the fact that "freedom of press has been impacted by the shutdown of communication and the Internet". It is also important to note that "indefinite Internet ban, which is not permissible under the Indian Constitution amounts to abuse of power by the state government, which directly supervised by the central government after J&K was brought under President's Rule". The communication blackout has led to massive economic losses that cannot not only be adequately compensated, all these sectors are now posed with the vital question of how these can be best revived if the spirit of Friday's judgement were to be implemented in all fairness by the government. The next steps of the government will be worth watching in the days to come.



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