Rayees Ahmad Kumar
Internet is indispensable for education, business, health care services and communication, among many other things. The UN, to which India is a member state, has declared access to internet as a human right. It has further recommended that every country should make access to internet a fundamental human right. Indeed, access to internet is recognised as a human right in several countries. In Estonia, the parliament enacted legislation almost twenty years ago (in 2000) to declare internet access a fundamental human right. In France, the constitutional council stated in 2009 that internet access is a human right. Similar examples include Costa Rica and Finland.
Recently, the Supreme Court of India refused to express any views on whether access to internet is a fundamental right or not. The bench headed by Justice NV Ramana was hearing a petition challenging the suspension of 4G services in J&K. The apex court did declare that the freedom of speech and expression and the freedom to practise any profession or to carry on any business or occupation via the use of the internet is constitutionally protected under Article 19 of the Constitution. This decision of the Supreme Court was foreshadowed by a similar decision by the High Court of Kerala.
Additionally, Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, which includes freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. The United Nations, in a report, stated that Article 19 of the UDHR was drafted with the foresight to accommodate future technological developments. Arguably, this includes access to the internet.
Internet is accessible at 4G in all states and UTs of India except in J&K. This has created a “digital divide” in the country, with J&K on one side and the rest of India on the other.
Providing internet facilities to citizens is essential in these times of Covid-19. Across the world, the internet is at this time enabling business activity, education, health care, online shopping, etc. Even after the pandemic ends, the world will continue to prefer and utilise the digital option over the traditional methods. The world is becoming more digitalised by the day. India needs to make sure it doesn’t linger behind, and for that it must provide internet to all its citizens.
Post abrogation of Article 370, all internet services were suspended in J&K. Five months later, internet access was restored but only at slow 2G speed. The tourism industry, health, education and many other sectors are badly affected due to the snail’s pace at which internet works. Online classes are not yielding good results because students can neither be taught in video nor are able to download the study material they need.
In south Kashmir, the situation is the worst. Here, the internet is often completely suspended. A couple of days ago I had to attend a video conference through Zoom app hosted by the Chief Education Office Ganderbal. I along with rest of my colleagues from south Kashmir couldn’t attend the conference as the internet was so slow that the video kept stopping or braking into a blur.
Considering the importance of internet in our daily life, especially in this pandemic lockdown when we are supposed to stay at home and do everything online, nothing is more needed in J&K than the restoration of 4G internet services.
The writer teaches at Govt BHS Anderwan Ganderbal