The Supreme Court on Monday found the government’s statistics of thousands of instances of death, terror and violence in Jammu and Kashmir from 1990 as “formidable reasons” leading to the August 5, 2019 lockdown that followed the withdrawal of the special rights and privileges of Kashmiri people with the reading down of Article 370.
Attorney General K.K. Venugopal reeled out numbers in an effort to prove that the restrictions stopped the bloodshed in the Valley and there is no dearth of facilities for the ordinary Kashmiris.
The top law officer told a Bench led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi that since 1990, 41,866 persons have lost their lives in 71,038 terror incidents. This included 14,038 civilians; 5,292 security personnel and 22,536 terrorists
“A terrible state of affairs... These are formidable reasons [for the lockdown]... These are security matters,” Justice S.A. Bobde, on the Bench, said.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted that “not a bullet has been fired after August 5”.
Justice Bobde asked the government to file an affidavit with the details. The government was also asked to restore normalcy, keeping in mind national security.
The court asked petitioners like Kashmir Times editor Anuradha Bhasin to approach the Jammu and Kashmir High Court with “local” problems like lack of Internet and mobile connectivity.
“This [lockdown] was done by the Union of India. Public transport is not functioning, there is no way to communicate. Only a few landlines work. Media freedom is crippled. This is the 43rd day,” senior lawyer Vrinda Grover argued for Ms. Bhasin.
Senior advocate Sanjay Hegde said the least the Kashmiris expected was that “a child can go to school quietly and the mother is assured the child returns home safely”.
Mr. Venugopal denied the allegation of lack of facilities during the lockdown. He said 10.5 lakh people were treated as out- patients, 67,196 admitted as in-patients and 10,699 major and 53,297 minor surgeries performed. Ninety per cent of the medical shops were open and 8.9 lakh LPG cylinders delivered at homes.
Mr. Mehta, on his part, claimed that the “exploitation” of farmers had come to an end with a scheme launched by the government.
At this point, the CJI stopped the law officers from going into further details.
The CJI later took a serious view of an oral submission made by senior advocate Husseifa Ahmadi, appearing for child rights activists Enakshi Ganguli and Dr. Shanta Sinha, that it was difficult to access the J&K High Court. Mr. Ahmadi made the statement when the court asked him to approach the High Court. The petition had tried to draw judicial attention to media reports of detention of children aged between 10 and 18 in J&K.
Instead, the CJI sought a report from the High Court Chief Justice on the basis of Mr. Ahmadi's statement. The CJI said he would speak to the High Court Chief Justice to verify the claim and, if necessary, even go there. The CJI warned that if the claim proved to be untrue, accountability would follow.
Nod for Azad’s visit
The court further agreed to a request of senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad to visit four districts - Srinagar, Baramulla, Anantnag and Jammu. Mr. Azad gave an undertaking to the court that he would not indulge in any political rallies while there. He is visiting to meet the daily wagers engaged in fruit trade, tourism and infrastructure in the four districts.
“I want to go talk to them. They have suffered from the losses and wastage,” senior advocate A.M. Singhvi, for Mr. Azad, submitted.
When the CJI asked Mr. Mehta about Mr. Azad's request, Mr. Singhvi said, “I am a former Chief Minister of the State. I was turned back thrice in August from the airport... I do not need his permission to enter my own State”.
Senior advocate Raju Ramachandran, for CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, submitted that his J&K party colleague, M.Y. Tarigami, was brought to Delhi on the court's order and treated in the AIIMS.
The court allowed, Mr. Tarigami, if he so wishes, to return to J&K.
Mr. Ramachandran said the government order of detention of Mr. Tarigami had not yet been placed on record. “So many days have passed... if there is no order, please declare me free. Please put it on record that once I go back, I should be provided my security and given my freedom to move. Legality of my 40-day detention is in doubt,” he submitted.
The court also issued notice to the government on a separate habeas corpus petition filed by Rajya Sabha member Vaiko to know the whereabouts of former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Dr. Farooq Abdullah.
Mr. Vaiko's counsel said Dr. Abdullah was believed to be “under detention” and there was no access to him. He was scheduled to visit Chennai on September 15 for a programme following the abrogation of Article 370 - in court and set him free.
Mr. Mehta said he would have to take instructions on Mr. Vaiko's claims.