On November 7, Kerala’s Finance Minister Thomas Isaac wrote on Twitter that internet connection has been made a basic right in the state. The cabinet has approved a Rs 1548 crore Kerala Fibre Optic Network project to provide internet to every household in the state. It would be free for 20 lakh below poverty level (BPL) families.
Internet connection made a basic a citizen right. Kerala cabinet gives final nod for ₹1548 crores Kerala Fibre Optic Network (KFON)Project to provide Internet to every household in the state. For 20 lakh BPL households it will be free. The project to be completed by Dec 2020.— Thomas Isaac (@drthomasisaac) November 7, 2019
Making internet a human right has been a debate that’s been going on for a long time, across the world. There are countries which have already declared internet access a fundamental right. In 2016, the United Nations declared internet access a human right. The resolution condemned any country intentionally disrupting the internet access of its citizens and stressed that ‘the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online’.
“Recently, in the Faheema Shirin versus State of Kerala case, the High Court recognised the right to internet as a fundamental freedom. It quoted the UN resolution and said that right to internet access is a tool to ensure right to education,” says Hrishikesh Bhaskaran, web expert.
Arjun Azad, co-founder of the NGO Your Lawyer Friend, that fought Faheema’s case, says, “Our contention was that access to Internet is a part of right to freedom of speech and expression, right to privacy, right to develop and right to get education. The court didn’t include it under the right to freedom of speech and expression. But it said that it is a fundamental right because it comes under the right to develop and the right to get educated. The state cannot infringe on your fundamental right.”
They had also quoted an earlier declaration by Thomas Isaac during the budget speech, about making freedom of internet access a human right. “The government proposed to recognise access to internet as a basic human right, while the court went on to hold that it is a fundamental right,” Arjun adds.
There has been some amount of discussion on the subject, even before. “Vint Cerf, who is known as a Father of Internet, has said that right to internet access can at most be a civil right but not a human right. He argues that internet is only an enabler of human rights. The argument against it was that food and shelter are also commodities, but those are recognised as human rights,” Hrishikesh says.
He adds that he sees it as a welcoming move, that Kerala has recognised right to internet access as a basic right and is also implementing it soon. “These are times when governments call for an internet shutdown when any big development occurs. There was an internet shutdown in Kashmir when Article 370 was abrogated. During the time of the Ayodhya case verdict too, several places faced internet shutdown. India is one of the countries where internet shutdowns happen the most in the world. But if the right to internet access is recognised as a fundamental or basic right, it cannot be violated.”
It would also encourage startups and entrepreneurship, he adds.