From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Nothing much
Mains level : Right to internet - Internet bans
A study of India’s civil liberties record will desiccate its status as republican democracy.
- The ongoing repression of freedom in the Kashmir Valley is extraordinary.
- Since August 4, 2019, most residents in the region have no access to the Internet.
- India took a unilateral decision to revoke its compact with the State of Jammu and Kashmir and a total communication and information blockade was placed on the region.
- A complete curfew was placed on movement in the region.
- Kashmiris were deprived even of any means of finding out what was actually transpiring.
- Certain limited channels of communication have been opened up, access to the web remains elusive.
The import of a ruling
- These facts form the backbone of Anuradha Bhasin and Ghulam Nabi Azad’s challenges in the Supreme Court of India.
- A three-judge Bench will pronounce its verdict.
- Given the growing ubiquity of the Internet, and the state’s use of blockades on the web the judgment will have a bearing on the endurance of the constitutional promises of liberty and equality.
Deleterious effects in Kashmir
- The blackout of the Internet impinges on the right to freedom of expression.
- Despite the partial lifting of some restrictions, with journalists affected by the absence of the Internet, only a pruned version of the newspaper is published.
- Internet ban also denies right to health care caused by people’s inability to access government schemes such as Ayushman Bharat, and a withdrawal of education to students at different levels due to the closure of institutions.
- The shutdown has inflicted economic damage on the region. Even conservative estimations released by the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry show that the State economy has suffered a loss of no less than ₹15,000 crore since the dilution of Article 370.
- It claims that there is no obligation on it to disclose the orders through which the restrictions have been imposed.
- It contends that judges must grant the state substantial leeway in matters of national security.
- It says that if the executive believes that freedom ought to be restricted, the court must not review the validity of such measures.
Limitations of the argument
- Its order imposing the Internet ban was made under the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017.
- This law requires the executive to provide a reasoned order when it directs the withdrawal of the Internet.
- Thus, access to the web cannot be shut out through the issuance of furtive instructions.
Issue of rights
- Free speech was a promise preserved in Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
- This guarantee contains both an inherent and an instrumental value.
- It is inherent because it is important to respect every individual’s equal right to personal autonomy and dignity.
- Its instrumental values lies in promoting free speech – better dialogue stimulates a more informed polity.
- The instrumental value of speech prompted the court, in Sakal Papers (1961), to hold that no policy of the state can regulate the circulation of a newspaper, as it will directly impinge on the right to freedom of expression.
- Human costs go even further. A report in The Hindu shows that, with jobs already hard to come by, there has been an 80% loss of employment among start-ups in Kashmir that rely on the Internet.
Need for security
- It doesn’t mean that terrorism does not require counteractive actions.
- Law demands that any measure taken by the state in restricting a fundamental right is necessary and proportionate to the goal that it seeks to achieve.
- The court needs to scrutinise whether a wide-ranging ban on the Internet on an entire populace is justifiable.
- In the past, the state has segregated people possessed of a potential to terrorise from others.
- Stifling dissent through bans on the Internet will only send us racing towards a bottomless pit.
- As a recent report in Live Mint underscores, 67% of the documented cases of web shutdowns around the world last year took place in India.