Ministry of Home affairs confirms restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir are only in the mind

RTI reveals it has no papers about shutdown orders even as Kerala High Court says internet access is a fundamental right

It has been more than three months since several parts of the State of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) are without access to mobile telephony and the Internet. The shutdown was imposed around the time the Central Government with Parliament’s approval made fundamental changes to J&K’s status under the Constitution of India. A few weeks ago, the media reported the Government’s claim that all landline services across the State and post-paid mobile telephone services in some parts of the Valley had been restored.

Speaking at an event organised in New Delhi by the Former Civil Servants Forum, the Union Home Minister (HM) is reported to have said that the restrictions are only in some minds and not in J&K (perhaps he referred to the minds of those opposed to the changes being imposed on J&K including Opposition Parties).

The Union Home Ministry has now confirmed the HM’s statement. A few days ago the Home Ministry has given a reply under the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act) stating they do not have any papers relating to the restrictions on telecommunications imposed in that State. 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 Union HM is also reported to have asked participants at that New Delhi event, whether lack of telephone services is a violation of fundamental rights.  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.

As a result of this innocence of basic and crucial knowledge of rights, 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.

The RTI Intervention with the MHA

Three weeks after the Central Government successfully moved Parliament to take away the special protection given to J&K under the Constitution of India, on 30th August, 2019, I sought the following information from the Union Ministry of Home Affairs through an online RTI application:

Click here to read the RTI application and CPIOs’ replies.

What is wrong with the Home Ministry’s RTI replies?
There are multiple problems with the CPIOs’ replies which indicate lack of due application of mind to the issues involved:

Click here to read why I think the CPIOs’ replies are bad in law and on facts.

Is there a fundamental right to telephone services?
The Union HM seemed to be in doubt as to whether “lack of telephone services is a human rights violation” (or else he might have asserted that there was no such human right) at the public event he addressed on the last day of September 2019. Ten days earlier, the Kerala High Court had ruled that access to the 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.

Click here to read a gist and some extracts of this judgment.

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