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Union home ministry has no papers to justify internet shutdown in Kashmir: RTI reply

By Our Representative
The Union Home Ministry has confirmed in a reply under the Right to Information Act (RTI), Act, 2005 that it does not have any papers relating to the restrictions on telecommunications imposed in in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). It has also claimed innocence of knowledge vis-a-vis the widely reported arrests and detentions of politicians and social activists who are residents of J&K.
The confirmation comes, says senior RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak in an email alert, amidst Union Home Minister Amit Shah reportedly seeking information from ex-civil servants on whether lack of telephone services is a violation of fundamental rights.
According to Nayak, “It appears that the Home Ministry officials slipped up in briefing him about the recent Kerala High Court's finding that access to the Internet, especially through mobile telephone service providers, is a fundamental right deemed to be a part of the right to life under Article 21 and the right to education guaranteed under Article 21-A of the Constitution.”
Calling it “innocence of basic and crucial knowledge of rights”, Nayak comments, “Not only the several fundamental freedoms of Kashmiris, but also the rest of India's right to know have taken a severe beating under the enforced policy of One Nation, One Constitution.”
Nearly three weeks after the Central government taking away the special protection given to J&K under the Constitution of India, on August 30, 2019, Nayak sought the information from the Union Ministry of Home Affairs through an online RTI application seeking a clear photocopy of “any order(s)/direction(s)/instruction(s) issued for suspending Internet and telecom services, in J&K.”
He also sought names of political leaders and members of political parties belonging to J&K currently under detention, or being held in police or judicial custody, along with the exact geographical address of the places of their lodgement, as also under which legal provisions.
Pointing out that Central Public Information Officers (CPIOs) in the MHA “seemed to have played soccer” with the RTI application for a few of weeks, moving it from desk to desk within the J&K Division of the Ministry, Nayak said, but they eventually replied that they did not have any of the information sought in his RTI application.
Kerala High Court has ruled that access to internet is a fundamental right, yet the MHA officials did not updated the Home Minister on this development
The reply comes, asserts Nayak, even as the Home Minister seems to be in doubt as to whether lack of telephone services is a human rights violation. On September 30, at a public event, organised in New Delhi by the Former Civil Servants Forum, he reportedly said that the restrictions were only in "some minds and not in J&K.”
At the meeting, he queried ex-civil servants whether the internet shutdown was violation of fundamental right, says Nayak, noting, “This statement came ten after the Kerala High Court ruled that access to Internet is a fundamental right. It is unfortunate that the MHA officials had not updated him on this development or he could have spared himself the embarrassment of asking such a question.”
On September 19, 2019, the Kerala High Court ruled that right to access Internet, particularly through mobile telephone service providers is deemed to be a part of the rights to life and privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution and the right to education under Article 21A of the Constitution of India.
“Although the judgement has the force of law in Kerala only, it is a beacon of light to shine while testing the validity and constitutionality of excessive curbs imposed on telecom services not only in J&K but also other parts of the country”, says Nayak, wondering if the Apex Court on November 14, 2019 would look into this when the two dozen petitions about J&K's constitutional status and the state of affairs in that region are be taken up again.
Nayak suspects, “In all probability the Central government will justify the curbs on telecom services on grounds of protecting the defence and security interests of the State. How the Apex Court will test the proportionality of these curbs will be watched with great interest in all quarters.”

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