NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday ruled that internet services are intrinsic to right to free speech and cannot be suspended without providing reason and duration thereof and directed the government to review within 7 days all orders directing suspension of internet services and orders restoration of all government and local body websites.
Though the court has not declared right to access Internet a fundamental right under article 19, it held that right to free speech and carrying out trade using Internet is constitutionally protected.
A three-judge bench headed by Justice N V Ramana says freedom of expression and carrying on trade through internet is protected under Article 19(1) of the constitution and can be restricted only under the reasons given in Article 19(2) of the Constitution and said, “A complete ban on internet must be considered by the state only as an extraordinary measure,”
The court asked the government to publish all orders on Internet suspension and travel restrictions to enable legal challenges and orders review of all orders on section 144 CrPC (unlawful assembly) and Internet suspension within seven days and said, “Repetitive use of section 144 orders are an abuse of power, and such orders can't be used to suppress legitimate expression.”
Justice Ramana quoted from Charles Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities while pronouncing the order and said that their limited concern is to find a balance regarding security and liberty of people and made it clear that they would not delve into the political intent behind the lockdown on J&K, and will try utmost to balance human rights and freedoms with the issue of security.
The order was passed on batch of petitions including that of Anuradha Bhasin, Executive Editor of the Kashmir Times, Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad challenging the restrictions imposed in the state following the abrogation of the provisions of Article 370 in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir.
During the hearing, centre had justified the restrictions which it said were preventive measures to avoid any violence and claimed that it was because of these moves that not a single life was lost nor a single bullet fired.