A day after envoys from 15 countries arrived in Jammu and Kashmir on a two-day visit, Congress leader Kapil Sibal on Friday asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi why people from outside India “have the right to visit” the region and not the country’s politicians.
He welcomed the Supreme Court order on Internet ban in Jammu and Kashmir, saying it will restore free flow of information from the region and termed as “path-breaking” its observation that prohibitory orders under CrPC Section 144 cannot be used indefinitely to suppress freedom of speech and expression and difference of opinion.
“I want to ask the prime minister that why do you have so much affection with foreigners and why not with the people of India. At least, you should be more transparent and open with the people of India,” Sibal told a press conference.
“Why don’t you allow us to visit Jammu and Kashmir? Why you do not have faith in us or the people of India? If people from outside India have the right to visit Jammu and Kashmir, why not us? Do you consider us as perpetrators of violence?” he asked.
Mr. Sibal also sought to know from Home Minister Amit Shah as to what was the emergency on August 4, 2019, that Internet service suspended was from August 5 “without any reason”.
In a significant judgment with implications on basic freedoms beyond Kashmir, the Supreme Court on Friday said internet access is a fundamental right under Article 19 of the Constitution and asked the Jammu and Kashmir administration to review within a week all curbs in the union territory.
A three-judge bench, headed by Justice N V Ramana and also comprising Justices B R Gavai and R Subhash Reddy, asked the Jammu and Kashmir administration to immediately restore internet services in institutions providing essential services like hospitals and educational places.
“This is a very important order. It is a historic verdict that has been pronounced by a 3-judge Supreme Court bench and this will ensure free flow of information from Kashmir. It is historic because the people of India were concerned about the Jammu and Kashmir situation as no one knows about it,” Mr. Sibal said.
He said the apex court has said there was doubt in public minds about the situation in Kashmir as Section 144 was in force throughout the region with Internet shut and communication down.
The Congress leader wondered why prohibitory order was not imposed in Jawaharlal Nehru University where violence happened inside the campus and the police stood outside. He termed “shameful” the actions of Delhi police in the JNU violence incident.
He said the apex court has said that suspension can be utilised temporarily only and any order suspending Internet issued under the Suspension Rules, must adhere to the principle of proportionality and must not extend beyond necessary duration.
“Repetitive orders under Section 144 CrPC would be an abuse of power,” Mr. Sibal said citing the court order and added that while exercising the power a magistrate is duty bound to balance the rights and restrictions based on the principles of proportionality and thereafter apply the least intrusive measure.
“The power under Section 144 CrPC cannot be used to suppress legitimate expression of opinion or grievance or exercise of any democratic rights,” he said.
Referring to the issue of electoral bonds, Mr. Sibal described the Modi government as one which was “bonded to electoral bonds”, alleging that it has “deep bonding” with the new bonds.