The Supreme Court on Tuesday said restoration of normality in Jammu and Kashmir cannot be accomplished overnight, the government needed “reasonable time” to guide the Valley back to peace without loss of lives.
“Who will be blamed if something happens,” the court retorted when asked by petitioner-activist Tehseen Poonawalla to, at least, pass an order to restore essential services such as hospitals, police stations and schools.
“Nobody can take even a one per cent chance,"a Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, M.R. Shah and Ajay Rastogi observed.
For the time being, the Bench agreed to wait and watch the goings-on in the Valley for a fortnight. It said the issue was too sensitive for the court to interfere as of now.
Mr. Poonawalla has highlighted certain “regressive measures” like curfew blanketing the Valley and information black-out before and during the blunting of Article 370, by which special rights and privileges accorded to the people of Jammu and Kashmir were scrapped through a Presidential Order on August 5.
The Centre, within hours of announcing the notification of the Presidential Order, tabled the Bill to reorganise the State of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories - Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. The Bill was successfully passed in Parliament.
Attorney General K.K. Venugopal said the decision to lift the curfew and restore communications, including telephone lines and Internet, finally rested with the government. Restrictions were being eased everyday. The ground situation was monitored on a daily basis.
Mr. Venugopal recalled how violence spiralled out of control in 2016 following the death of Hizb-ul- Mujahideen ‘commander’ Burhan Wani by security forces in Kashmir. He said the situation had taken months to reach normality. On the contrary, the present situation would be resolved in the next few days, but this again would be subjective to several factors in store, he said.
Senior advocate Menaka Guruswamy, for Mr. Poonawalla, opened her submissions by pointing to how even soldiers in Kashmir were unable to communicate back home due to the information black-out. “Imagine a Diwali in which you cannot call your mother,” she said.
“Soldiers are also subject to discipline. They are not above anything. Why are you looking at soldiers? Can a system work in part Justice Shah asked.
Ms. Guruswamy said people were unable to reach hospitals.
Justice Mishra said the situation was “very grave” and the restrictions were in place to prevent any law and order problem. “But how long will this continue?” Justice Mishra turned to Mr. Venugopal.
To this, Mr. Venugopal assured the court that the government was committed to restoring normality. Paramilitary forces were being sent to prevent untoward happenings.
“It is in the interests of the State and the Centre that everything goes back to normalcy... We are ensuring preventive steps with least cause for inconvenience to the public,” Mr. Venugopal submitted.
He said how in 2016 (after Wani's death) separatists tried to recruit the youth of Kashmir and disruptions were caused on the instructions given from across the border.
Hearing this, Justice Shah addressed Ms. Guruswamy, saying “please appreciate nobody knows what will happen, some time has to be given. Suppose something happens tomorrow, who will be to blame? The Centre. Nobody will take even one per cent chance.”
“Nothing can be done overnight. This is a serious issue. Normalcy may come, we expect it to come. We have to ensure there is no loss of life. That is more important. If the court interferes now, it is a sensitive issue. We do not know anything. We do not read the newspapers now,” Justice Mishra, in turn, told Ms. Guruswamy.
The Bench said Mr. Poonawalla may not have a full picture of what was happening on the ground in the Valley.
“Nobody has the perfect and whole picture of the situation now,” Justice Shah observed.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta rose to point out that curfew is imposed district-wise by the magistrates concerned after closely reviewing the situation at hand.
“These are district-wise decisions. With several restrictions done after studying the ground situation,” Mr. Mehta submitted.
“Wait for sometime. Some reasonable time has to be given to bring the situation back to normality. In case of no change, come back with full particulars,” Justice Mishra told Ms. Guruswamy, deciding to keep the petition pending for two weeks.
Mr. Poonawalla had also sought a judicial commission to be set up to enquire into the government action and the release of leaders like former Chief Ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti.
“The inhabitants of the State of J&K are suffering on account of unwarranted imposition of curfew and/ or restrictions under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, preventive arrests, snapping of phone lines, suspension of Internet services, media gag, barred access to healthcare, educational institutions, banks, public offices, shops and establishments and all other basic amenities,” the plea said.