Kapil Sibal to top court: Article 19’s narrow interpretation may have consequences
If the reasons given by the central government for imposing restrictions on communication and transport in Kashmir find the acceptance of the Supreme Court, it will have grave consequences for the nation, senior advocate Kapil Sibal argued on Tuesday.
Appearing for Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, Sibal told the court that a narrow interpretation of Article 19 of the Constitution, which lays down freedom of speech and expression, will help the Union government create a Kashmir-like situation anywhere in the country. Imposition of such restrictions during the lead-up to elections would be one such likely consequence, said Sibal.
“...Tomorrow it can happen anywhere. If there are upcoming elections, they can impose Section 144 and shut down all communication.”
A bench of Justices NV Ramana, R Subhash Reddy and BR Gavai is hearing a batch of petitions challenging the restrictions in Kashmir. Besides a petition by Azad, the bench is hearing a plea by Anuradha Bhasin, editor of Kashmir Times newspaper, challenging restrictions imposed on press and a petition by Asifa Mubeen challenging the detention of her NRI husband.
During the previous hearings, there were extensive arguments on imposition of orders under Section 144 of Code of Criminal Procedure, a provision which enables a district magistrate to impose restrictions on movement and assembly in public.
Responding to the petitioners, the central government, through solicitor general Tushar Mehta, told the court that misuse of social media and internet by separatists and military and political leaders of Pakistan had necessitated curbs on internet.
While maintaining that there were no restrictions in the whole State, Mehta underscored that tweets and trending hashtags on social media by mischievous elements justified the restrictions imposed.
Mehta also addressed the court about the degree of judicial interference that is permissible in cases involving “national security.” “I don’t want to indulge in rhetoric. But only least intrusive restrictions were placed in Kashmir. And most of it have been lifted”, he said.
The hearing will continue on Wednesday.
The Centre imposed restrictions in Kashmir Valley on August 5, the day it nullified Article 370 of the Constitution that gave special status to the militancy-hit state.