In the rest of India, when the internet is even briefly disrupted due to technical problems, customers often bombard mobile network service providers with angry messages and phone calls until the problem is fixed.
During the nationwide lockdown that has been in place since March 25 to try to slow the Covid-19 pandemic, mobile internet has become even more crucial to access essential services and information about the disease
But since August 5, when the Centre decided to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special status under the Constitution and convert it into two Union Territories, the region has been placed under severe restrictions, which have included curbs on accessing mobile internet. As the rest of the country depends on virtual meetings and transactions to keep the life going, the people of Jammu and Kashmir are told that they must manage with 2G internet speed. This means that it is almost impossible to stream a video or to even access a mobile application.
But it seems that the gravity of the matter has not adequately moved the Supreme Court of India, which chose again on Monday to accept the state’s contention that the nation’s security has to be balanced with a commitment fundamental rights.
Petitioners had asked the court to restore 4G internet in Jammu and Kashmir. After all, the Supreme Court only in January had declared that conducting business over the internet is a fundamental right. In that January judgement, the Supreme Court asked the same government that imposed the restrictions to form a review committee and periodically reassess the restrictions.
Services have been restored partially but at snail’s pace. Even after the coronavirus lockdown was imposed, the government chose to cite security reasons to deny residents of Jammu and Kashmir access to 4G internet services. As a consequence, even the Jammu and Kashmir High Court has found it difficult to function under the lockdown, with judges using WhatsApp and landline phones to conduct proceedings with lawyers in Kashmir, even as courts in other places use video conferencing.
Instead, on Monday, the court repeated what it did in January: it discussed the problems in detail in its order and then ceded ground yet again to the executive that imposed the restrictions in the first place.
Not satisfied with the existing review committee, the Supreme Court formed a special committee with officers of the central government on it. But this is no improvement. Jammu and Kashmir is now an Union Territory and under the President’s rule, with the Centre having great control over it. In such a situation, to order that the review of the restrictions be conducted by officials of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs is an abdication of judicial duty.
Even as the Supreme Court allowed the executive to review restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir, it has shown zeal in matters that do not require its oversight urgently. On May 11, for example the Supreme Court chose to monitor the beautification of a palace garden in Rajasthan.
No amount of rhetoric about the value of India’s fundamental rights can compensate for the actual enforcement of these rights.
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