IHC expects urgent steps for internet access in ex-FATA

Interior ministry given time to submit reasons behind absence of 3G and 4G services in tribal districts


Saqib Virk April 28, 2020
PHOTO: REUTERS

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday said it expected the government to take measures at the earliest to provide the internet facility to the residents of erstwhile FATA.

It noted that that access to internet was a fundamental right guaranteed under the Constitution and it was the duty of the state to ensure that the residents of tribal districts were not kept deprived of it.

Islamabad High Court Chief Justice Athar Minallah remarked that tribal districts were not Kashmir and the provision of all basic human rights to its residents must be ensured.

The court also granted time to the interior ministry to submit a detailed report citing the reasons behind the absence of 3G and 4G services in the tribal districts.

The court issued the direction on a filed by a student against the lack of internet services in the tribal areas for holding online classes amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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The petitioner told the court that he had lost almost 60 marks in his first semester because of the lack of internet access in his district, Bajaur.

Deputy Attorney General Tayyab Shah and interior ministry section officer M Riaz appeared before the IHC and sought time to submit para wise comments on the matter to the court.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) lawyer informed the court that his client had requested the government in written to provide it with proper guidelines and parameters on the issue.

“It appears that there is no refusal on part of the federal government to extend the internet facilities to the inhabitants of the [erstwhile] FATA,” read a court order authored by the IHC CJ.

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“However, it appears that due to the exceptional conditions that had prevailed in the past, the respective governments and the PTA may require time to develop the infrastructure in some affected areas,” it added.

The court noted that the merger of the Fata with the province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and abolishing the notorious Frontier Crimes Regulations were pivotal developments which had given the inhabitants protection of rights guaranteed under the Constitution.

“After suffering for decades, particularly due to lawlessness, insurgencies and mis-governance, peace has been restored. The restoration of peace and establishing writ of the State has been achieved because of the enormous sacrifices of the people of the merged areas, the armed forces and civilian authorities.”

The court observed now that peace and security had been restored, it was the duty of the state to ensure that the residents were no longer deprived of rights guaranteed under the Constitution.

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“Access to internet has become so vital that it inevitably affects the quality of life and thus its inaccessibility violates the right to life guaranteed under Article 9 of the Constitution,” the order read.

The deputy attorney general was granted a week’s time to submit the reply after he requested the court to be granted two weeks. The hearing was adjourning till May 11.

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