The Supreme Court on Friday ordered the Jammu and Kashmir administration to immediately review all restrictive orders imposed in the Union Territory since its special constitutional status was revoked on August 5.
The bench of Justices NV Ramana, R Subhash Reddy and BR Gavai said suspending internet indefinitely violates telecom rules. “None of the counsels have argued for declaring the right to access the internet as a fundamental right and therefore we are not expressing any view on the same,” said the judges. “We are confining ourselves to declaring that the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a), and the right to carry on any trade or business under 19(1)(g), using the medium of internet is constitutionally protected.” The bench instructed the government to publish in the public domain all the orders imposing restrictions so that they can be challenged in courts.
The court said the restrictions on internet have to follow the “principles of proportionality”and complete curbs must be considered by the state only as an extraordinary measure. “This freedom can only be restricted after relevant factors are considered and only if there are no other options,” added Ramana, who read out the judgement.
The judges had heard a series of petitions on the matter, including those filed by Kashmir Times Editor Anuradha Bhasin and Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad. It reserved its ruling on the matter on November 27.
Justice Ramana first read out a passage from the Charles Dickens’ classic A Tale of Two Cities. Before pronouncing the judgement, the judge clarified that the court would not delve into the political intent behind the revocation of the special status.
The court noted that Kashmir has seen a lot of violence. “We will try our best to balance the human rights and freedoms with the issue of security,” it said, adding that liberty and security were always at loggerheads. “It is court’s job to ensure that the citizens are provided all rights and security.”
During the multiple hearings, the petitioners had argued that the restrictions were unreasonable, and that the long duration of curbs could only be invoked by declaring an emergency under Article 352 of the Constitution. However, the Centre and the Jammu and Kashmir administration justified them, saying they were necessary in the interest of national security.
On November 21, the Jammu and Kashmir administration told the Supreme Court that everything was “normal” in the Union Territory, and that the petitioners were presenting a “grim picture”.
In a lockdown since August 5
On August 5, the central government amended Article 370 of Constitution and imposed prohibitory orders in the region. It also divided the state into the two Union Territories – Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. While postpaid mobile and SMS services have resumed in Kashmir, internet remains blocked. The Ladakh administration on December 27 restored 4G mobile internet connectivity in Kargil, after a gap of 145 days.
A number of political leaders, including three former chief ministers, in the erstwhile state have been detained since August 5. Former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah’s detention under the Public Safety Act was extended by three months on December 15. At the moment, he is confined to his Gupkar Road residence in Srinagar. Omar Abdullah is at Hari Niwas, while Mehbooba Mufti was initially lodged at Cheshmashahi hut, but was later shifted to a government accommodation.
The Narendra Modi-led government has faced global pressure to restore normalcy in the Valley. On October 25, the United States asked India to provide a road map for the restoration of normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir, including the immediate release of all political detainees.
Corrections and clarifications: The Supreme Court ordered an immediate review of the restrictive orders, and did not give the government a week as was stated earlier in the article. The error has been corrected.