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The Kerala High Court today held that right to have access to internet is part of the right to education as well as right to privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution of India fundamental right under the Constitution. It, therefore, struck down Hostel Rules enacted by Sree Narayana College in Kozhikode, Kerala which had prohibited inmates of Girls hostel from using mobile phones between 6 pm and 10 pm.
The judgment was delivered by Justice PV Asha in a petition filed by an undergraduate student at the college.
Besides regulating use of mobile phone by girls, the Rules had also prohibited the use of laptops by undergraduate students in the hostel premises.
According to SFLC, India, when the petitioner had approached the College Principal with her grievance, the Principal had asked her to state in a letter that she was unwilling to abide by the rule. Upon doing so, instead of relaxing the arbitrary rules, the Petitioner was asked to vacate her hostel room on a short notice of 12 hours. Thereafter, her room was locked by the administration and she was not even allowed to collect her personal belongings.
She had then approached the High Court challenging the Rules as violative of Articles 14 and 19 of the Constitution.
Further, it was also the contention of the petitioner that the Hostel Rules violated UGC (Promotion of Equity in Higher Educational Institutions) Regulations, 2012 and the principles embodied in Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, 1979, Beijing Declaration.
The petitioner had also submitted that the since hostel administration does not provide a reference library to residents, accessing learning resources over the internet was necessary for the students staying in the hostel.
The petitioner had cited the judgments of the Supreme Court in Shreya Singhal v. Union of India and ND Jayal v. Union of India. The petitioner had also cited the judgment in Justice Puttuswamy v. Union of India to contend that the Rules amounted to violation of right to privacy.
The Court after considering the submissions advanced by the parties stated that international conventions and norms are to be read into the fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution of India in the absence of enacted domestic law occupying the field. Going by the same, right to have access to internet becomes part of the right to education and right to life under Article 21.
“As rightly pointed out by the learned counsel for the petitioner, the Apex Court has in Vishaka & Ors. v. State of Rajasthan & Ors. [AIR 1997 SC 3011 : (1997) 6 SCC 241] held that in the light of Article 51(c) and 253 of the Constitution of India and the the role of judiciary envisaged in the Beijing Statement, the international conventions and norms are to be read into the fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution of India in the absence of enacted domestic law occupying the fields when there is no inconsistency between them. Going by the aforesaid dictum laid down in the said judgment, the right to have access to Internet becomes the part of right to education as well as right to privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.”
The Court, therefore, ruled that the Rules which infringes the fundamental freedom and privacy cannot be permitted or enforced.
“When it is already found that such an action infringes the fundamental freedom as well as privacy and will adversely affect the future and career of students who want to acquire knowledge and compete with their peers, such instruction or restriction cannot be permitted to be enforced.”
It, however, added that the only restriction that can be imposed is that the use of mobile phones should not create disturbance to other students. Court also added that the students in the hostels should be given counselling “in order to inculcate in them self restraint in the usage of mobile phones, to make them capable of choosing the right path, to make them aware of the consequence of misuse as well as advantage of its proper use.”
The Court, therefore, directed that the petitioner be re-admitted to the hostel without further delay.