The Supreme Court on Tuesday said that it was important to balance the personal liberty of individuals with national security concerns while hearing petitions challenging the restrictions placed on media and communications since August in Jammu and Kashmir, Bar and Bench reported.
The restrictions were imposed on August 5, when the Union government scrapped special status for Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. Nearly two months after the decision, restrictions continue to be in place in many parts, with several Opposition political figures also under detention. The government has defended its measures citing law and order concerns.
Senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, who was arguing for a Kashmiri law student, said that the situation in the Valley was not normal and it had experienced a “sustained media and communications blackout” for 57 days. “Liberty does not mean mere animal existence,” Hegde said. “Right to communicate with loved ones is included in the right to liberty.”
In response, Justice BR Gavai said: “Personal liberty will have to be balanced against the requirements of national security.” Gavai and Justices NV Ramana and R Subhash Reddy were hearing a batch of petitions filed by Anuradha Bhasin, the executive editor of Kashmir Times, activist Tehseen Poonawalla and Foundation of Media Professionals, on the Kashmir matter on Tuesday.
Senior counsel Meenakshi Arora, who was arguing for Poonawalla, said that these petitions also raised the question of fundamental rights. “Can fundamental rights be pushed under the carpet,” she asked.
Advocate Vrinda Grover, who was representing Bhasin, asked under which notification communication lines were snapped in Kashmir, according to Live Law.
The court asked the Centre to respond to all the petitions that have been tagged with Bhasin’s and said it will next hear the matter on October 16. In her petition, Anuradha Bhasin claimed that the “information black hole” in the Kashmir Valley was continuing despite the administration’s claims that restrictions were being withdrawn. She added that the movement of journalists in Srinagar was being curbed.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Jammu and Kashmir administration, told the court that if mobile and internet facilities were restored in the Valley, fake WhatsApp messages would be circulated across the border and could lead to violence. He added that all landlines were working and there were no restrictions on the movement of people.
A five-judge Supreme Court Constitution Bench on Tuesday granted the Centre four weeks to file its response to a batch of petitions challenging the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status under Article 370 of Constitution. The Constitution Bench will hear the matter next on November 14.
These pleas have challenged the communication blockade in the state, the alleged illegal detention of children, and the impact of restrictions on healthcare. Three petitions against the security clampdown have been filed by advocates ML Sharma, Shakir Shabir and Soyaib Qureshi. National Conference Lok Sabha members Mohammad Akbar Lone and Hasnain Masoodi have filed a petition under Article 32 of Constitution, which allows the Supreme Court to issue any order to protect the fundamental rights of citizens. Child rights experts Enakshi Ganguly and Shanta Sinha have filed a plea seeking clarity about reports of children being illegally detained by security forces.
A group of former defence personnel and bureaucrats, who have served in Jammu and Kashmir, have also challenged the Narendra Modi government’s decisions. A petition has also been filed by Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami, challenging the validity of the revocation of the state’s special status.