SC reserves order on petitions challenging restrictions in Kashmir
The Supreme Court on Wednesday reserved its verdict on petitions challenging the restrictions imposed on telecommunication, transport and movement in Jammu & Kashmir following the nullification of Article 370 on August 5, divesting the region of its special status in the Constitution.
A bench of justices NV Ramana, R Subhash Reddy and BR Gavai heard the batch of petitions for nine days before reserving its order. Arguments were advanced by petitioners on issues including the scope of Article 19 of the Constitution which lays down the right to freedom of speech and expression.
The hearings included detailed submissions on Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, a provision which enables district magistrate to impose restrictions on movement and assembly of more than four people in public and Section 5 of Indian Telegraph Act that empowers the government to intercept telecommunication messages.
The hearings were also privy to the discussion on the degree of restrictions which should be imposed on the internet and social media.
The Kashmir valley had been in a state of lockdown since the central government revoked Article 370 of the Constitution on August 5. Restrictions were imposed on telecommunication, transport and the media by the central government which it sought to justify on ground of national security. Such restrictions have gradually been eased in the erstwhile state which has been bifurcated into two Union territories -- J&K and Ladakh
A bunch of petitions were filed in the Supreme court challenging the restrictions. The lead petition was filed by Editor of Kashmir Times newspaper Anuradha Bhasin challenging the restrictions imposed on the media. Another petition was filed by Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad. Besides, the Court also heard interveners Soayib Qureshi, Tehseen Poonawalla and the Foundation for Media Professionals.
During the course of the hearing, many documents containing sensitive information were submitted by centre’s second top law officer, solicitor general Tushar Mehta, to the court in sealed cover.
Mehta justified the restrictions on the internet and communication in the valley, citing instances from across the border wherein even officials of Pakistan Army were attempting to influence the situation in the valley through statements on social media.
“Some minister from Pakistan said that they (Pakistan) will provide internet in Jammu & Kashmir. Though that cannot be done, it shows their agenda. Hashtags like Jihad and Kashmir are used on social media. Some of the tweets in relation to Kashmir are from official Twitter handles of Pakistan Army. I don’t want to take names.”
On the last day of the hearing, senior counsel Kapil Sibal told the Court that the centre’s stance in the case had been inconsistent and contradictory.
“On one hand they say restrictions on normal life were necessary. On the other hand, they say everything is normal. So what exactly is their argument”, asked Sibal.
Sibal also attacked the wisdom of the centre in imposing blanket restrictions on the internet. He cited the example of his own morphed pictures holding beef in his hand which have been circulating on the internet for over five years. Sibal maintained that solutions should be devised to deal with such incidents and a total ban on the internet cannot be the way out.
“Nuclear technology brought us Hiroshima but it also gives us electricity. We are in a new age”, he said.
The petitioners also insisted that the Central government produce copies of orders by which restrictions were imposed and eventually revoked.
“They just say they have withdrawn the orders. If so, they have to place those orders on record. They cannot say it across the counter in the highest court of the country”, said Sibal in an argument which was also taken up by Vrinda Grover, who appeared for Bhasin.
The court reserved its verdict in the petitions filed by Bhasin and Azad.
A petition filed by Asifa Mubeen challenging the detention of her non-resident Indian (NRI) husband will be heard on Friday this week.