Mains Article

Access to Internet is a Basic Right [Mains Article]

It is important to recognise the right to Internet access and digital literacy and allow citizens to access to information, services, and the creation of better livelihood opportunities.
By IT's Mains Articles Team
October 02, 2019


  • Why it was in News?
  • What is Faheema Shirin v. Kerala case?
  • What is Digital Inequality?
  • Need for Access to Digital technologies
  • Government’s effort
  • Right to internet Access
  • Suggestions
  • Conclusion

Access to Internet is a Basic Right

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Why it was in News?

  • Recently, the Kerala High Court held that the right to have access to the Internet is part of the fundamental right to education as well as the right to privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution.


What is Faheema Shirin v. Kerala case?

  • A petition was filed by a student, challenging her expulsion for not adhering to restrictions on the use of mobile phone during evening in her hostel.

Petitioner’s argument:

  • The mobile restriction was discriminatory on the grounds of gender as such restrictions were not imposed in the boys’ hostel.
  • In the Budget Speech made by Kerala Finance Minister in 2017, it was announced that Kerala Government had recognized ‘right to internet’ as a human right.
  • UGC (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal of Sexual Harassment of Women Employees and Students in Higher Educational Institutions) Regulations, 2015, states that Concern for the safety of women students must not be cited to impose discriminatory rules for women in the hostels as compared to male students.


  • Curtailing the use of mobile phones amounted to a violation of fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.
  • The court citied the observations of the Supreme Court in the Rengarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram (1989) case and said that the fundamental freedom under Article 19(1)(a) can be restricted only for the purposes mentioned in Article 19(2).
  • The court also observed that the Human Rights Council of the United Nations had declared right to internet to be a human right in 2014.


What is Digital Inequality?

  • In recent times, several government and private sector services have become digital. Some of them are only available online. This leads digital inequality.
  • Digital inequality is the disparities in using digital and information technology among individuals due to information poverty, lack of infrastructure, and lack of digital literacy.
  • In 2016, digital literacy in India was less than 10%.
  • However, in the absence of Internet access and digital literacy enabling that access, there will be further exclusion of large parts of the population, exacerbating the already existing digital divide.



Need for Access to Digital technologies

  • Without providing adequate internet access and digital literacy, digital governance and online service delivery has no value.


  • For instance, Common Service Centres, which operate in rural and remote locations, are physical facilities which help in delivering digital government services and informing communities about government initiatives.
  • While the government may be saving resources by moving services online, it also has to spend resources since a lot of citizens cannot access these services.
  • Digital skills have been recognised as UNESCO’s Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4), where one of the monitoring indicators calls on countries to track digital literacy skills.
  • Moreover, a recent report by the Digital Empowerment Foundation indicates that 30% of Indian population lags on basic literacy and thrice that for digital literacy.


  • The government launched Digital India in 2015. However, its challenges include delayed infrastructure development, bandwidth availability, personal computer penetration and the capacity to scale.

Government’s effort

  • The Bharat Net programme, aiming to have an optical fibre network in all gram panchayats, was envisaged as the infrastructural backbone for having Internet access across India. However, the project has consistently missed all its deadlines while the costs involved have doubled.
  • Similarly, the National Digital Literacy Mission has impacted only 1.7% of the population and has been struggling for funds.

Right to internet Access

  • The right to Internet access is the view that all people must be able to access the Internet in order to enjoy their rights to freedom of expression and other fundamental human rights.
  • In case of Sabu Mathew George, in 2018, the Supreme Court declared that the Right to Access Internet is a basic fundamental right, which could not be curtailed, except for when it encroaches into the boundary of illegality.
  • A right to Internet access is also given under Articles 38(2) and 39 of the Constitution.

Right to internet Access on other countries


  • The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects the citizens’ right to privacy and protects it from the State’s unreasonable intrusions.
  • In the United Kingdom, Human Rights Act protects privacy, family life, home and communications. This entails respect for the right to uninterrupted and uncensored communication with others.



  • A consistent definition of ‘digital literacy’ should be defined for data collection and analyses by government.
  • In this context, India’s National Digital Literacy Mission trains people to operate digital devices, and to access the government’s e-governance services at its basic levels. However, each of these has different operational plan which requires clarity.


  • There is need for a national digital literacy policy to monitor the digital divide across India.

In this context, there are three challenges:

  1. Prioritising based on a grass-roots approach
  2. Aligning with sectoral and national growth targets
  3. Remaining internationally relevant
  • This policy also needs to answer questions on whether the role of digitising a country is only the job of the government or whether public-private partnerships (PPP) should be included.


  • There is need for a framework to establish the categorisation of creation and consumption of content. From an architect to a blogger, there is a tremendous volume of work happening in India that contributes to the digital output of the country.
  • The potential impact of all the digital creation in India is underestimated. While consumption of digital content is huge in India, the need for increased digital creation is also of significant importance to an emerging digital economy.


  • There is need to understand digital literacy rates of the government, the public and private sector, and the education sector.
  • There is also need for stronger studies to identify the opportunity for every citizen to experience the value of technology.


  • There is need to provide technological interactions with children. This will automatically force the parents, teachers and educational institutions to adopt methodologies to achieve an appropriate balance of creation and consumption of technology in the formative years of children.

Other Suggestions

  • All state should create infrastructure for a minimum standard and quality of Internet access as well as capacity-building measures which would allow all citizens to be digitally literate
  • States should also prohibit the activities that impedes, obstructs or violates such a right.
  • There should be recognition given to the digital literacy, which will make it easier to demand accountability from the state as well as encourage the legislature and the executive to take a more proactive role in furthering right to internet access.


  • India is moving to a global economy, transforming the way in which people work, consume information, and entertain themselves.
  • In this context, unequal access to the Internet creates and reproduces socio-economic exclusions.
  • Hence, it is important to recognise the right to Internet access and digital literacy and allow citizens increased access to information, services, and the creation of better livelihood opportunities.


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