Supreme Court seeks ‘clear-cut picture’ from J&K govt on how long restrictions will continue

A view of Supreme Court of India.  

The Supreme Court on Thursday demanded a “clear-cut picture” from authorities on how long they planned to continue with restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir.

“You have to give us a clear-cut picture of how long you are going to continue with these restrictions... Already two months have passed,” Justice N.V. Ramana addressed Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Jammu and Kashmir government.

Mr. Mehta claimed “99% of Jammu and Kashmir has no restrictions on movement”. He said telephone lines were fully restored.

Justice R. Subhash Reddy, on the Bench, asked whether the government had so far made any effort to review its restrictions in place since August 4 to avoid violent repercussions due to the removal of special status of J&K by diluting Article 370 and the bifurcation of the State into two Union Territories — J&K and Ladakh — through the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act. A Constitution Bench led by Justice Ramana is hearing a flurry of petitions challenging both the abrogation of Article 370 and the parliamentary law.

“What we are asking is not whether you can impose restrictions or not, but whether you have reviewed your decision?” Justice Reddy asked Mr. Mehta.

The law officer said the restrictions were reviewed daily.

The Bench, also comprising Justice B.R. Gavai, asked whether there were other alternatives to ensure peace in J&K.

Justice Ramana asked about the lack of Internet connectivity in J&K.

“On the Internet issue, the public has to have some mode of communication,” Justice Ramana observed orally.

In its latest affidavit on the ground situation in J&K, the government said mobile phone connectivity had been fully restored in J&K and in Kupwara. Post-paid connections, irrespective of the telecom service provider, were operational since October 14 across the 10 districts of the J&K.

The J&K government said fundamental rights, especially Article 19 (free speech and expression), were not absolute. These rights could be curbed to protect sovereignty, integrity and security.

“Compelling State interests” allowed the government to impose restrictions on fundamental rights. It was the fundamental duty of citizens under Article 51(A) to protect the unity of the country, the affidavit said.

The J&K government said restrictions were intended to shield citizens from the onslaught of fake news, doctored videos, instigating parts and morphed images from anti-India forces.

“When the right to life of a citizen is at stake and is threatened by anti-India forces operating from across the border, there can be temporary curtailment of certain movement/communication in larger interest,” the J&K government reasoned with the court.

The government said petitioners who have come to court were making “a grim picture of a situation which is not even near the truth”.

Besides, J&K has never suffered from lack of basic essentials and medical supplies.

Mr. Mehta said none of the petitioners had complained when curfew was imposed in 2016 after the killing of a terrorist.

“Personal insinuations apart, do you know that terror and violence had actually come down after 2008,” senior lawyer Vrinda Grover, for Kashmir Times editor Anuradha Bhasin, retorted on Mr. Mehta’s submission in court.

The government said the restrictions on movement were usually ordered after the District Magistrate concerned came to know that certain groups were engaged in attempts to disturb public tranqullity through provocative speeches and wrong rumours.

In short, the J&K government said restrictions were “purely temporary” and “need-based”. It said the restrictions were reasonable and meant to “pre-empt inflammation of passions, rumour-mongering, etc”.

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Printable version | Nov 28, 2020 12:59:58 AM |

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