SC for balance between liberty, national security
New Delhi: The Supreme Court remarked on Tuesday that personal liberty of people needs to be balanced against national security concerns as the Centre defended its move to impose restrictions on communication networks in Kashmir, saying the curbs had been clamped to prevent the circulation of fake news messages.
“The country will be flooded with fake news from across the border if internet is restored,” solicitor general Tushar Mehta told a three-judge special bench led by justice NV Ramana and comprising justices Subhash Reddy and BR Gavai.
The bench was hearing petitions against the clampdown on communications in Kashmir since the Centre moved on August 5 to nullify Article 370 of the Constitution, which conferred special status on Kashmir, and bifurcate the state into two Union territories, J&K and Ladakh.
Editor of Kashmir Times, Anuradha Bhasin, a Delhi-based Kashmiri lawyer and a law student are the petitioners before the court. The three told the bench that the communication blackout in Kashmir had entered the 57th day and the matter involved a larger question of fundamental rights of the people.
Mehta recalled how internet services were suspended three years ago when Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was gunned down by the army and none of the petitioners had then approached any judicial forum with a grievance. “Constantly this ‘57 days’ is being cited. In 2016, when a terrorist was gunned down, internet remained shut for three months for the safety of the people. Where were these people then?” he asked the bench.
He accused the petitioners of raising the issue now for serving vested interests. “If the internet services are restored, there will be a barrage of WhatsApp messages coming from across the border,” he said.
Senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, appearing for the Delhi-based law student from Kashmir, claimed the situation was far from normal. Pointing to an earlier order of the court, the lawyer said the government should have restored all communication channels in Kashmir. “Communication does not mean just landlines. Internet and mobile connections should be restored. I want to enforce my right to communicate with my loved ones, my parents. There is no landline connection in my house and I cannot speak with them because their mobiles are not working,” Hegde said on behalf of his client.
At this, justice Gavai clarified that the top court’s order had a caveat. “Communication lines were to be restored subject to concerns of national security. Personal liberty will have to be balanced against the requirements of national security,” the judge said.
Mehta handed over the Centre’s affidavit, filed in response to Bhasin’s petition, and requested the bench to peruse it before the next hearing on October 16.
The bench also asked to Centre to file a responses to Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad’s plea questioning the detention orders passed against prominent leaders of the state and Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury’s petition questioning the house arrest of his party leader MY Tarigami.