The bench said since the issues involved affected both the Union Territory and the nation, the review committee should comprise their senior officials to look into the entire issue. (Photo Credit: News Nation Photo)
The Supreme Court Monday ordered setting up of a "special committee" headed by Union Home Secretary to consider pleas for restoration of 4G internet services in Jammu and Kashmir, saying that the national security and human rights needed to be balanced in view of the fact the Union Territory has been "plagued with militancy". The top court said it was desirable to have better internet services in the Union Territory in view of the worldwide pandemic and a national lockdown.
"However, the fact that outside forces are trying to infiltrate the borders and destabilize the integrity of the nation, as well as cause incidents resulting in the death of innocent citizens and security forces every day cannot be ignored," said the bench comprising Justices N V Ramana, R Subhash Reddy and B R Gavai. The top court said it takes "with utmost seriousness" the sensitive task of balancing "national security and human rights" and referred to its earlier judgement in which it held that the degree of restriction and the scope of the same, both territorially and temporally, must stand in relation to what is actually necessary to combat an emergent situation. At the same time, we do recognize that the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir has been plagued with militancy, which is required to be taken into consideration. These competing considerations needs to calibrated in terms of our judgment , Justice Ramana, who wrote the order for the bench, said.
The bench said since the issues involved affected both the Union Territory and the nation, the review committee should comprise their senior officials to look into the entire issue. "We, therefore, find it appropriate to constitute a Special Committee comprising of the following Secretaries at national, as well as state level, to look into the prevailing circumstances and immediately determine the necessity of the continuation of the restrictions in Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, the order said.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) Secretary will head the special panel and the Secretary of Ministry of Communications and the Chief Secretary of the Union Territory would be the members. The Special Committee is directed to examine the contentions of, and the material placed herein by, the Petitioners as well as the Respondents. The Committee must also examine the appropriateness of the alternatives suggested by the Petitioners, regarding limiting the restrictions to those areas where it is necessary and the allowing of faster internet (3G or 4G) on a trial basis over certain geographical areas and advise the Respondent No. 1 (Centre) regarding the same, in terms of our earlier directions, it said.
The court took note of the submissions of the Centre that continuous infiltration, foreign influence, violent extremism and issues of national integrity are prevalent in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, which are serious issues. The Centre had also pointed to certain material, which indicate that cyber terrorism, is on the rise within the valley and the Pakistani Military in its Green Book 2020 has called for an information warfare on Kashmir, after the revocation of special status of Jammu and Kashmir, the order noted.
The apex court directrions came on pleas filed by Foundation for Media Professionals, Soayib Qureshi and Private Schools Association of Jammu and Kashmir seeking restoration of 4G in the UT on grounds such as right to access doctors is an inherent under article 21 (Right to Life) of the Constitution and it's deprivation should be judged in view of the coronavirus or Covid-19 pandemic. They had also alleged that the right of children to access schools through the high speed internet service have been hampered.
Earlier, the Centre and the Jammu and Kashmir administration, had justified the restriction on 4G service in the Union Territory saying high speed internet might be used for sending information about troop movement, and referred to the recent "tragic" deaths of security personnel in an encounter with terrorists. Prior to this, the top court had issued notices to the Centre and the UT administration on the PILs seeking restoration of 4G internet services in Jammu and Kashmir in view of prevailing Covid-19 pandemic.