by Rakesh Kumar
“The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.” -Bill Gates
Fundamental Rights are the basic Human Rights provided to every individual living in India by the Constitution. Fundamental Rights in India includes Right to freedom of speech and expression, Right to life and personal liberty, Right to Equality etc apart from this there ambit has been widened significantly with the passage of time more rights have been included like Right to health, education, clean water, livelihood etc have been added. Access to the internet has promoted more and more students in urban and rural areas to learn digitally and also they are earning digitally. Today it has become a source of income to the various chunks of the people living in the country. In a country like India where the employment rate is very low, just by the use of the internet many people are seeking their employment and are trying to overcome their poverty and living there peacefully and smoothly.
Recently the apex court has declared Right to Access Internet as a medium of freedom of speech and expression and is a Fundamental Right protected under article 19 of the Constitution of India. The time has come that we should recognise the Right to Access Internet as a Fundamental Right. Internet broadband services are like a lifeline to a people in India coming from all walks of life. Internet is not only used to access social media but is certainly a vital source of information and communication between individuals in today’s world. By the use of the internet people are taking employment through various technology based giant companies like Amazon, Flipkart, Ola, Uber etc. their livelihood is dependent on these services provided by the Internet .
The Internet provides access to Healthcare facilities who avail health services online. Moreover, it allows various women and home-based workers to sell their products online and also allows them to purchase the raw material needed for their business and earn money. On 19th January ,2019 Microsoft India launched a new e-commerce platform, re-weave.in, for handloom weavers under its Project Re-Weave, part of its Philanthropies initiative. This e-commerce platform will help in connecting artisans to the buyers directly enabling them to expand to newer customers and markets.
So we can say that the Internet has become a breath of millions of people domestically as well as globally also. PM Modi on 1st July 2015, launched Digital India Project with an objective of connecting rural areas with high-speed Internet networks and improving digital literacy. He has laid emphasis on the digitisation of the work as it brings transparency and it is very fast also and it prevents corruption also. Government launched the digital India project with an aim to provide a world-class Infra to our youth and this will definitely boost their future growth. According to Software Freedom Law Centre data there have been more than 100 Internet shutdowns in 2019 (alone) in various parts of India. Mostly, the Internet was banned in Jammu and Kashmir. On 4th August, 2019 in Kashmir, the government imposed complete shutdown of Internet because of the protest in the state. Recent enactment of Citizenship (Amendment) Act led to the protest all over the country and due to this state government in response have shutdown the Internet in the state. Assam also witnessed suspension of the internet including Guwahati for 10 days. There were Internet bans in Mangalore, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. These bans are imposed in order to protect the citizens from any incidents. Bans are imposed under different provisions of the law imposed under Section 144 of The Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), some under section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph act ,1885 and some without any legal provisions at all.
This summer, the UN declared that it considers the internet to be a human right. Specifically, an addition was made to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which states “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression , this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek , receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” On 2nd July, 2018 Human Rights council of the United Nation made important declaration on the protection and enjoyment of human of right on the Internet . The main objective of this resolution was to protect the rights of people online particularly freedom of expression regardless of boundaries and frontiers and through any media of one’s individual choice including the Internet.
The Kerala High Court made a start to the domestic recognition of the right to access internet with its judgement in Faheema Shirin R.K. v. State of Kerala and others holding that “When the Human Rights council of the United Nations have found that the Right to access to internet is a Fundamental freedom and a tool to ensure the right to education a rule or instruction which impairs the said right of the students cannot be permitted to stand in the eye of the law.” As this (Kerala) case notes, Mobile and broadband internet shutdowns impact women , girls and marginalized communities more disproportionately than others.
So the time has come that we should recognise Right to Access to the Internet is indeed a Fundamental Right within our constitutional guarantees. It would be worth the government while to formulate clear guidelines on Internet shutdown that are in consonance with the court’s ruling and these should be brought out to the public discussion.