The Jammu and Kashmir government on Thursday claimed in the Supreme Court that the situation following the abrogation of special rights of Kashmiri people is being “so beautifully handled that even a farmer does not lose a single penny”.
At the beginning of the hearing, the court asked the government to address “each and every question” raised by petitioners about restrictions on the freedom of movement and communication imposed in J&K since August 5.
Appearing before a three-judge Bench led by Justice N.V. Ramana, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta for J&K, said he would comprehensively respond to every issue. He also dismissed the petitioners’ “hyperbolic” claim that the “clampdown” had cast a shadow of doubt over a population of “seven million people” and reduced them to a state of imprisonment. Mr. Mehta reasoned the prohibitory orders issued under Section 144 CrPC, restricting liberties of citizens, were meant to protect their right to life. He said Section 144 CrPC was a preventive measure to maintain public peace and tranquility.
“I can show videos of hospitals, public places where normal life is going on. Everything is normal. I don't know why the petitioners are presenting such a grim picture… Petitioners claim 100% clampdown. This is not an en masse blockage. There was no absolutism… There was only need-based restrictions and need-based relaxation,” the law officer said.
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Attorney General K.K. Venugopal said the government’s move in J&K was a harbinger of development and employment.
However, senior advocate Meenakshi Arora submitted that restrictions make inert people who cannot defend democracy. They become inert because of the fear in their minds, she said.
Senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, for law graduate Mohammed Aleem Syed, said, “Calming down a situation by sedating everyone is an overkill”.
Ms. Arora said the Hong Kong High Court had declared the face mask ban law unconstitutional even though protests were violent. In Kashmir, there was hardly a protest.
Justice Ramana said the Indian Supreme Court has a greater tradition of upholding rights.
”Has Hong Kong a problem with cross-border terrorism?” Justice B.R. Gavai, on the Bench, shot back at the lawyer.
In his counter, Mr. Mehta said, “let us not play ostrich”. He referred to the cross-border terrorism witnessed in the Valley over the past decades. “Situation in J&K was not being allowed to stabilise by those across the border and some local people with separatist tendencies. Situation is normal today. All of are happy… People have accepted. They are cooperating,” Mr. Mehta said.
The Solicitor General submitted that over 99% children have attended exams. He quoted figures to show that normalcy has returned to Kashmir. These include the 43 lakh kilo litres of petrol and 11.59 lakh metric tonnes of apples sold in J&K.
“The situation has been so beautifully handled that even a farmer does not lose a single penny… If they (farmers) are unable to sell their apples, the government is purchasing them,” Mr. Mehta said.
He rejected claims about Internet blockage. He said Internet was available at kiosks, offices of all district commissioners and even hotels. He said tourists were coming regularly.
Mr. Mehta condemned the petitioners for trivialising the efforts of the Army and the security personnel, due to which not a bullet has been fired, not a life lost since August 5. The Supreme Court should not only protect the free speech of a minuscule but also the fundamental rights of a vast majority of Kashmiris.
Mr. Mehta said the dilution of Article 370 has led to the strengthening of Panchayati Raj and ended discrimination against women and children, among other benefits.
“Property of Kashmiri women marrying outside the State will now be protected… RTE was not applicable in J&K... Nobody came here to agitate that. Now they have come for Internet rights,” Mr. Mehta snubbed the petitioners.
Mr. Mehta said the restriction was only on public assembly and not individual movement. But petitioners had argued how lack of public transport had curbed even individual movement.