The Jammu and Kashmir administration on Tuesday told the Supreme Court that curbs imposed on internet services in the Union Territory were justified as terrorists, separatists and the Pakistan Army were trying to instigate the Kashmiri people on social media to undertake jihad against the Indian state, PTI reported. The administration also said that prohibitory orders were imposed as some people tried to incite others through “inflammatory speeches”.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Jammu and Kashmir administration, told a bench of Justices NV Ramana, R Subhash Reddy and BR Gavai that India was fighting enemies from both within and across the border. “There were several other messages on social media from mainstream political parties and separatists which justified putting restrictions on the internet,” he said, adding that social media cannot be controlled.
The Centre had on August 5 abrogated the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, imposed a curfew there, and divided the erstwhile state into the two Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. While postpaid mobile services have resumed in Kashmir, internet remains blocked.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court was hearing a petition by Kashmir Times Editor Anuradha Bhasin and Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad against the restrictions on the media in the Union Territory. Mehta told the court that the situation in Kashmir was “exceptional”, which demanded exceptional measures.
“Modern terrorism relies heavily on internet as it has global impact,” Mehta said. “The operation is more clandestine. Internet is used on daily basis to recruit, raise funds and propagate the ideology.”
The bench then asked Mehta whether internet use could be permitted with some restrictions. Mehta replied in the negative, saying that “the only solution is that either you have internet or you don’t have the internet”.
Advocate Vrinda Grover, representing Bhasin, objected when Mehta tried to submit a police report in a sealed cover. The judges, however, said that according to Mehta, these documents pertain to national security and cannot be shared with anyone except the court. The bench accepted the plea of Grover and Azad’s lawyer Kapil Sibal, that it should not peruse the material in the sealed cover.
Mehta also claimed before the court that there were no restrictions on journalists. He said that on August 5 itself, 1,184 passes were given to accredited journalists while on August 11, around 450 passes were given to other journalists.
“From August 10, a media centre was opened with internet connections for all journalists,” Mehta said. “Periodically press releases were given. They were free to use unrestricted internet from 8 am to 11 pm. Besides these, 15 internet kiosks were opened for general public also.”
The hearing in the matter will continue on Wednesday.
The case so far
On November 21, the Jammu and Kashmir administration had told the Supreme Court that everything was “normal” in the Union Territory, and that the petitioners were presenting a “grim picture”. One of the judges on the bench told Mehta that the petitioners had submitted their arguments in detail, so he would have to reply to each question they had raised.
Mehta argued that the allegations made by the petitioners were incorrect and said he will respond to them in detail. The solicitor general claimed he did not file a status report in the top court as the ground situation in the region was changing every single day, and he wanted to show the exact status at the time of his submission.