SC: No 4G in J&K for now, panel headed by Home Secy to decide on restrictions

New Delhi (IANS) The Supreme Court on Monday declined to restore 4G Internet services in Jammu and Kashmir for now, emphasizing the necessity to strike a balance between national security and public need. It asked the Centre to set up a high powered committee headed by Home Secretary to examine grievances connected with continuation of restrictions.

A bench comprising Justices N.V. Ramana, R. Subhash Reddy and B.R. Gavai said it is appropriate to constitute a special committee comprising secretaries at national and state level -- Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Secretary Department of Communications and the Chief Secretary, Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir -- to look into the prevailing circumstances and immediately determine the necessity of the continuation of the restrictions in the Union Territory.

The top court noted that the special committee is directed to examine the contentions of, and the material placed by the petitioners, seeking restoration of 4G Internet services, and the Centre opposing high speed internet.

"The aforesaid 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 ...," said the top court.

The bench observed that the degree of restrictions should not be disproportionate.

The bench also noted "although the present orders (concerning the restrictions in the UT) indicate that they have been passed for a limited period of time, the order does not provide any reasons to reflect that all the districts of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir require the imposition of such restrictions."

Citing the menace of militancy in the region, the top court said "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".

The Centre had submitted that continuous infiltration, foreign influence, violent extremism and issues of national integrity are prevalent in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, all of which are serious issues.

Foundation of Media Professionals and others -- the petitioners -- had argued that in the existing COVID-19 situation, when there is a national lockdown, the restrictions imposed on the residents of the entire Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir impacts their right to health, right to education, right to business and right to freedom of speech and expression.

"They (petitioners) submit that access to Internet acquires even more importance under the prevailing circumstances in the country, relating to the pandemic," noted the court.

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