Having "struggled" to conduct online hearings due to curbs on internet speed in Jammu and Kashmir, High Court Chief Justice Gita Mittal has summoned Home Secretary Shaleen Kabra to appear before a bench on Thursday via video conferencing and apprise it about the impact of the restrictions on e-connectivity of courts.
Passing an order on a 'Court on its Own Motion' on Monday, a division bench of Chief Justice Mittal and Justice Sanjay Dhar expressed concern over urgent issues involving the rights of the residents of the union territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.
Giving a background in its three-page order, the division bench said that virtual hearing has been necessitated because of the strict lockdown being enforced, following a sharp spike in coronavirus cases.
"However, we find today that despite best efforts on the part of our IT experts, it has been impossible today to have even a bare semblance of a hearing. We have struggled to have virtual/or audio connectivity with the amicus curiae (Monika Kohli) and the several counsels appearing before us. Even the learned Advocate General has expressed grave difficulty in joining the hearing," the order said.
The division bench noted that access to justice is a fundamental right "and cannot be impeded" while reasoning that courts remain accessible to every citizen of the union territories.
"Given the extreme difficulty being faced by us, let Shaleen Kabra, Home Secretary, appear before us through video conferencing and apprise this court about the impact of the restrictions on e-connectivity of the courts," the order said, posting the matter for July 16.
The court also referred to an order passed by the Supreme Court in May in which the apex court had constituted a committee at the highest level to undertake a review of connectivity restrictions imposed by authorities.
The Supreme Court had on May 11 ordered setting up a high-powered committee headed by the Union home secretary to examine the relief sought by journalists, doctors and lawyers from Jammu and Kashmir and explore an alternative mechanism to resolve problems arising out of slow Internet speed in the union territory amid a lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The high court had taken suo motu cognisance of the difficulties faced by the public during the COVID-19 lockdown and appointed Monika Kohli as an amicus curiae in the case.
Earlier in April, the high court had asked for a status report on restoration of 4G internet facility after it was informed that non-availability of high-speed internet was hampering studies of children who were confined to their homes because of the pandemic.
The high court chief justice has been constantly reviewing the response of administrations of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh in tackling COVID-19 and holding regular hearings through video conferencing with all stakeholders involved in the fight against COVID-19.
Internet was shut in erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir on August 5 last year after the Centre announced revocation of special status of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcation of the state into union territories of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir.
The Internet was restored in a phased manner from January this year but with a slow speed of 2G. PTI