How the communications shutdown is hampering medical and health services in Jammu & Kashmir: PIL in SC revealsSeptember 12 2019
A Kashmir-based medical professional has moved the Supreme Court seeking the restoration of landlines and high-speed internet in all hospitals and medical establishments.
Dr. Sameer Kaul has moved this petition as a Public Interest litigation, seeking to mitigate the adverse effect of the communications blackout on medical services, and consequently, on the health of the people in the Kashmir region.
"In the age of digital India, when most of the services including medical services are fully dependent on availability of internet facilities, snapping of internet services across hospitals and medical establishments in Kashmir amounts to serious infringement of fundamental right to health and medical care which has been recognized and included as a part of right to life enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution of India," the petition states.
The erstwhile State of Jammu & Kashmir has seen internet shutdowns more than 180 times in the past 7 years, the petition states. In 2018 alone, internet services in the Valley was cut off about 65 times; 55 such instances have taken place this year thus far. In 2016, the internet remained shut for 133 days - the longest duration of such a blackout so far. Pointing at these figures, the petition also prays to the Court to direct the government to desist from imposing such blackouts in the region.
Owing to such internet shutdowns, the petition states, India has earned a "dubious distinction" of being a leading country in the world for government-enforced internet shutdowns and most of these have been in the Kashmir region.
Currently, the internet and landlines in the Kashmir region have remained inoperative since the intervening night between August 4 and 5 and the suspension has continued for over a month now. Such a blockade violates the fundamental rights of the people guaranteed under Article 21, the petition states.
It goes on to list the ways by which communications shutdowns adversely affect medical and healthcare facilities. One such effect is highlighted thus:
"Most surgical equipments, instruments and drugs are shipped from across the world. Ordering, making payments and subsequent tracking of shipment - happen online. Implant equipments including heart values, stents, bone implants, artificial joints are ordered through e-commerce platforms from Companies based in major cities of India and all over the world. The payment is made online and equipments are delivered by courier companies.
Due to lack of access to internet facilities in hospitals, such orders are impossible to be placed and executed. This is hampering implant surgeries in hospitals across Kashmir needing such equipments from past almost a month now. In case, internet services are not immediately restored in hospitals, irreparable loss can be foreseen among patients needing the said resources resulting in infringement of their right to health and medical care."
The petitioner also states that it is the duty of the government to provide healthcare facilities to the people, and the present shutdown is in violation of the citizens' Fundamental Right to Health under Article 21.
"Instead of effectively providing health and medical services and making sure that no one is allowed to cause hindrance in discharge of such services, the government is itself creating a situation, where access to health and medical care is disturbed and hindered by blocking access of hospitals and medical establishments to Information and Communication Technology. Such an action is clearly in violation of the fundamental right of health and medical care which has been recognized and included as a part of right to health as enshrined under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution."
The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear petitions pertaining to restrictions on the press and communication in the Kashmir region on September 16, for final disposal.
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