Right to access internet a fundamental right, can’t be curbed arbitrarily: SC on J&K restrictions

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The petitioners have questioned the curbs on the internet and mobile communication and said this had a crippling effect on the lives of people.

Ruling that the right to access the internet is a fundamental right under Article 19 of Constitution, the Supreme Court on Friday ordered the Jammu and Kashmir Administration to restore internet services in all institutions providing essential services like hospitals and educational centers.

Delivering its order on petitions challenging the restrictions imposed in the Union territory following the abrogation of special provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution in August last year, the apex court said restrictions on fundamental rights cannot be done by the arbitrary exercise of power.  Follow J&K LIVE Updates

"We consider the restriction on fundamental rights cannot be in the exercise of arbitrary powers," Justice NV Ramana said. The test of proportionality needs to be satisfied. This freedom can only be restricted after relevant factors are considered and only if there is no other option, he said.

Saying that an indefinite internet suspension is a violation of telecom rules, the court said, "Internet suspension without any particular duration and indefinitely is a violation of telecom rules."

The three-judge bench, also comprising of Justices R Subhash Reddy, and B R Gavai said that "the complete curb of the internet must be considered by the state only as an extraordinary measure. Any order that has been passed to restrict/suspend internet services shall be subject to judicial scrutiny."

The top court also ordered the administration to review and place in the public domain all restrictions imposed. "All orders suspending such services must be published so that those affected can challenge if necessary. All orders are to be also put in the public domain which can then be challenged in a court of law," it said.

Observing that Section 144 of CrPC (prohibitory orders) cannot be used as a tool to suppress differences of opinion, the court also directed the government to produce all orders by which Section 144 is invoked."

Internet access was snapped five months ago when Jammu and Kashmir's special status was revoked and the state bifurcated into two union territories, Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.

The bench was hearing a batch of petitions, including those by Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad and Kashmir Times Executive Editor Anuradha Bhasin, challenging the restrictions imposed in the region.