The Indian government has been ordered by the Supreme Court to undergo a review of its suspension of internet services in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
In its judgment, the court came to the conclusion that the indefinite shutdown of internet, mobile phone, and landline services in the union territory is illegal.
Since August last year, internet, mobile phone, and landline services in Jammu and Kashmir have been shut down after the government came to the decision to remove the territory's partial autonomy.
Throughout the hearing, the plaintiffs argued that such restrictions impacted the right to free speech of individuals and impinged on their right to trade. They added that at the time of the internet shutdown, a less restrictive measure, such as restricting only social media websites like Facebook and WhatsApp "should and could have been passed", much like how India handled its prohibition of human trafficking and child pornography websites.
"While imposing restrictions, the rights of individuals need to be balanced against the duty of the state to ensure security. The state must ensure that measures are in place that allow people to continue with their life, such as public transportation for work and schools, to facilitate business," the plaintiffs' senior counsel submitted.
The court did not rule for internet access to be restored in the union territory immediately, however, but it did come to the conclusion that internet access is guaranteed under the Constitution due to freedom of speech and expression.
It added that the suspension of internet access was a "drastic measure" that could only be considered by the state only if it was necessary or unavoidable, clarifying that an indefinite shutdown of internet services was both excessive and unconstitutional, even if "the government is entitled to restrict the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed".
"There is no indication of the maximum duration for which a suspension order can be in operation. Keeping in mind the requirements of proportionality expounded, we are of the opinion that an order suspending the aforesaid services indefinitely is impermissible," the court said.
As part of the review, the Indian government will be required to present findings on whether the suspensions are still in compliance with the country's telecommunications legislation, as well as look into the question of whether they are still proportionate.
The findings must be presented by the end of this week.
The court also ordered authorities to review all such curbs in Jammu and Kashmir immediately.
Darul Ihsan Media Desk