Supreme Court declared the freedom of speech and expression and the freedom to practice any profession or carry on any trade, business or occupation over the medium of internet enjoys constitutional protection under Article 19(1)(a) and Article 19(1)(g).

SUPREME COURT OF INDIA JUDGMENTS

DATE: 10/01/2020- The right to carry on any trade or business under 19(1)(g), using the medium of the internet is constitutionally protected. The restriction upon such fundamental rights should be in consonance with the mandate under Article 19 (2) and (6) of the Constitution, inclusive of the test of proportionality.

Supreme Court stopped to declare the right to access internet as a fundamental right.

Supreme Court Observation

“In this context, we need to note that the internet is also a very important tool for trade and commerce. The globalization of the Indian economy and the rapid advances in information and technology have opened up vast business avenues and transformed India as a global IT hub. There is no doubt that there are certain trades that are completely dependent on the internet. Such a right of trade through internet also fosters consumerism and availability of choice. Therefore, the freedom of trade and commerce through the medium of the internet is also constitutionally protected under Article 19(1)(g), subject to the restrictions provided under Article 19(6).

None of the counsels have argued for declaring the right to access the internet as a fundamental right and therefore we are not expressing any view on the same. We are confining ourselves to declaring that the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a), and the right to carry on any trade or business under 19(1)(g), using the medium of internet is constitutionally protected“.

Apex court issued the following directions:

a. The Respondent State/competent authorities are directed to publish all orders in force and any future orders under Section 144, Cr.P.C and for suspension of telecom services, including internet, to enable the affected persons to challenge it before the High Court or appropriate forum.

b. We declare that the freedom of speech and expression and the freedom to practice any profession or carry on any trade, business or occupation over the medium of internet enjoys constitutional protection under Article 19(1)(a) and Article 19(1)(g). The restriction upon such fundamental rights should be in consonance with the mandate under Article 19 (2) and (6) of the Constitution, inclusive of the test of proportionality.

c. An order suspending internet services indefinitely is impermissible under the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Service) Rules, 2017. Suspension can be utilized for temporary duration only.

d. Any order suspending internet issued under the Suspension Rules, must adhere to the principle of proportionality and must not extend beyond necessary duration.

e. Any order suspending internet under the Suspension Rules is subject to judicial review based on the parameters set out herein.

f. The existing Suspension Rules neither provide for a periodic review nor a time limitation for an order issued under the Suspension Rules. Till this gap is filled, we direct that the Review Committee constituted under Rule 2(5) of the Suspension Rules must conduct a periodic review within seven working days of the previous review, in terms of the requirements under Rule 2(6).

g. We direct the respondent-State/competent authorities to review all orders suspending internet services forthwith.

h. Orders not in accordance with the law laid down above, must be revoked. Further, in future, if there is a necessity to pass fresh orders, the law laid down herein must be followed.

i. In any case, the State/concerned authorities are directed to consider forthwith allowing government websites, localized/limited e­banking facilities, hospitals services and other essential services, in those regions, wherein the internet services are not likely to be restored immediately.

j. The power under Section 144, Cr.P.C., being remedial as well as preventive, is exercisable not only where there exists present danger, but also when there is an apprehension of danger. However, the danger contemplated should be in the nature of an “emergency” and for the purpose of preventing obstruction and annoyance or injury to any person lawfully employed.

k. The power under Section 144, Cr.P.C cannot be used to suppress legitimate expression of opinion or grievance or exercise of any democratic rights.

l. An order passed under Section 144, Cr.P.C. should state the material facts to enable judicial review of the same. The power should be exercised in a bona fide and reasonable manner, and the same should be passed by relying on the material facts, indicative of application of mind. This will enable judicial scrutiny of the aforesaid order.

m.While exercising the power under Section 144, Cr.P.C., the Magistrate is duty bound to balance the rights and restrictions based on the principles of proportionality and thereafter, apply the least intrusive measure.

n. Repetitive orders under Section 144, Cr.P.C. would be an abuse of power.

o. The Respondent State/competent authorities are directed to review forthwith the need for continuance of any existing orders passed under Section 144, Cr.P.C in accordance with law laid down above.

153. The Writ Petitions are disposed of in the afore­stated terms. All pending applications are also accordingly disposed of.


BACKGROUND OF THE CASE

On 05.08.2019, Constitutional Order 272 was issued by the President, applying all provisions of the Constitution of India to the State of Jammu and Kashmir, and modifying Article 367 (Interpretation) in its application to the State of Jammu and Kashmir. In light of the prevailing circumstances, on the same day, the District Magistrates, apprehending breach of peace and tranquillity, imposed restrictions on movement and public gatherings by virtue of powers vested under Section 144, Cr.P.C. Due to the aforesaid restrictions, the Petitioner in W.P. (C) No. 1031 of 2019 claims that the movement of journalists was severely restricted and on 05.08.2019, the Kashmir Times Srinagar Edition could not be distributed. The Petitioner has submitted that since 06.08.2019, she has been unable to publish the Srinagar edition of Kashmir Times pursuant to the aforesaid restrictions.

Aggrieved by the same, the Petitioners (Ms. Anuradha Bhasin and Mr. Ghulam Nabi Azad) approached this Court under Article 32 of the Constitution seeking issuance of an appropriate writ for setting aside or quashing any and all order(s), notification(s), direction(s) and/or circular(s) issued by the Respondents under which any/all modes of communication including internet, mobile and fixed-line telecommunication services have been shut down or suspended or in any way made inaccessible or unavailable in any locality. Further, the Petitioners sought the issuance of an appropriate writ or direction directing Respondents to immediately restore all modes of communication including mobile, internet and landline services throughout Jammu and Kashmir in order to provide an enabling environment for the media to practice its profession. Moreover, the Petitioner in W.P. (C) No. 1031 of 2019 also pleaded to pass any appropriate writ or direction directing the Respondents to take necessary steps for ensuring the free and safe movement of reporters and journalists and other media personnel. Lastly, she also pleaded for the framing of guidelines ensuring that the rights and means of media personnel to report and publish news is not unreasonably curtailed.

Moreover, Mr. Ghulam Nabi Azad (Petitioner in W.P. (C) No. 1164 of 2019), alleges that he was stopped from travelling to his constituency in Jammu and Kashmir. In this context, he alleges that due to the aforesaid restrictions, he is not able to communicate with the people of his constituency.

In following Case Article 19(2) can be restricted as recognised by Apex Court :

With respect to the freedom of speech and expression, restrictions are provided under Article19(2) of the Constitution, which reads as under:

“(2) Nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, insofar as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub­clause in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offense.”

At the outset, the imposition of restriction is qualified by the term ‘reasonable’ and is limited to situations such as interests of the sovereignty, integrity, security, friendly relations with the foreignStates, public order, decency or morality or contempt of Court, defamation or incitement to an offence. The reasonability of a restriction is used in a qualitative, quantitative and relative sense, the Court Observed.

Thus it appeared that in the above case, the apex court actually tested the reasonability of the Imposition of ban on Internet and nothing more.


REF: WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 1031 OF 2019

ANURADHA BHASIN VERSUS UNION OF INDIA AND ORS.