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SC urges transparency in J&K internet service review orders

Noting that review orders on pleas for restoration of internet services in Jammu and Kashmir were “not meant to be kept in the cupboard”, the Supreme Court has asked the Jammu and Kashmir Administration to spell out its stand in two weeks.

“What review orders are meant for? Review orders are not meant to be kept in the cupboard,” a Bench led by Justice BR Gavai said while hearing Foundation for Media Professionals’ plea seeking publication of the review orders passed by a special committee headed by the Union Home Secretary on internet restrictions in the union territory.

Maintaining that the UT Administration has complied with all the prayers made in their earlier petitions and that their contempt petition was also dismissed, Additional Solicitor General KM Nataraj said, “Now, they (petitioners) have come up with a new prayer for publication of recommendations and deliberations of the special committee.”

The Bench said, “We are of the prima facie view that it may not be necessary to publish the deliberations (of the committee), but the review orders passed are required to be published,” the Bench said, posting the matter for hearing after two weeks.

On behalf of Foundation for Media Professionals, advocate Shadan Farasat said the UT Administration was required to publish the review orders and the mother order on internet restrictions as mandated by the top court’s 2020 verdict in Anuradha Bhasin’s case and the Telegraph Act.

He said he was not contesting the UT Administration’s stand that special committee orders did not have to be published as there might be national security issues. “But review order and mother order are something which must be published,” he added.

Declaring access to the Internet a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, the Supreme Court on January 10, 2020 ordered the Jammu and Kashmir Administration to review all orders imposing curbs in the newly created union territory following nullification of Article 370.

The top court had also linked the Internet to citizens’ right to practise any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business guaranteed under Article 19(1)(g). Noting that the right of trade through internet fosters consumerism and availability of choice, the Bench had said, “The freedom of trade and commerce through the medium of the internet is also constitutionally protected under Article 19(1)(g), subject to the restrictions provided under Article 19(6).”

On May 11, 2020, the top court had refused to order restoration of 4G mobile internet services in Jammu and Kashmir but ordered setting up of a special committee led by Union Home Secretary to take a call on the issue after factoring in the security situation on the ground. Besides the Union Home Secretary, Department of Telecommunication Secretary and Chief Secretary of J-K are on the panel. The national security and human rights needed to be balanced in view of the fact that J-K has been “plagued with militancy”, it had noted. PTI

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