IHC seeks help in plea demanding 3G/4G services in tribal areas

Updated 12 May 2020

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Internet connectivity was suspended in erstwhile Fata a few years ago for security reasons. — AFP/File
Internet connectivity was suspended in erstwhile Fata a few years ago for security reasons. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Monday sought assistance from the counsel for a petitioner seeking restoration of internet services in tribal dis­­tricts whether it can intervene to enf­o­rce fundamental rights in the former tribal agencies which have already been merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

The internet services to the region were suspended in 2016 on security grounds.

IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah sought the counsel’s help when the latter said the petitioner was seeking restoration of 3G/4G internet services because suspension of the internet services had caused problems for students in these areas as they could not attend online classes owing to the lockdown triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Supreme Court recently set aside an IHC verdict that had barred the federal government from suspending mobile phone services in some areas on special occasions, terming it a violation of the fundamental rights of people.

Justice Min­allah advised counsel Abdul Rahim Wazir to advance further arguments in the light of the apex court’s judgement. The IHC, therefore, expected that measures would be taken to restore 3G/4G internet services in tribal areas at the earliest to enable the people and students living in those areas to enjoy their fundamental rights, Justice Minallah said.

Internet connectivity was suspended in erstwhile Fata a few years ago for security reasons

The information technology ministry, during a previous hearing, had informed the court that due to security reasons the interior ministry had suspended the internet facility in certain areas of the former tribal areas in 2016.

According to the petitioner’s counsel, access to the internet was a constitutionally guaranteed right and an integral part of the fundamental rights guaranteed un­­der Articles 19 and 19-A of the Constitution.

He argued that the students and people of tribal districts could not be denied access to the internet facility, particularly when students were required to attend online classes of their educational institutions during the lockdown.

The IHC chief justice observed that since through a constitutional amendment, the tribal agencies, previously under the administrative control of the federal government, had been merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the counsel should help the court determine if it could issue a directive to the provincial government under the constitutional jurisdiction of Article 199 of the Constitution to enforce the fundamental rights in the province.

Justice Minallah also reminded the counsel that the Supreme Court had recently set aside the IHC judgement that revoked powers of the federal government to suspend mobile phone services on special occasions in some areas of the country.

The Supreme Court’s decision to set aside of the IHC judgement has enabled the federal government to suspend mobile phone and internet services in any area and companies providing these services had been asked to approach the federal government for redressal of their grievances.

Justice Minallah asked the counsel to assist that in such a scenario when the Supreme Court had held that the federal government might suspend cellular phone services, could the IHC issue directives to the provincial government to restore internet services in these areas.

Published in Dawn, May 12th, 2020