The Supreme Court refused to lift the communication blackout and other restrictions imposed in Jammu & Kashmir since last week, observing that the government may have had inputs that prompted such a move and that it will need time to “restore normalcy”.
The court was hearing a petition by social activist Tehseen Poonawala, seeking the lifting of the restrictions which were imposed following the government’s decision to bifurcate Jammu & Kashmir into two union territories, Jammu & Kashmir, and Ladakh, and scrap Article 370 and 35-A of the Constitution that gave the region special status and its permanent residents, special privileges.
Attorney General KK Venugopal, appearing for the government, contrasted the current situation with the one in 2016 following the killing of militant Burhan Wani and said that while the administration took three months to bring normalcy back to the Valley then, this time, it will do so “in a few days”. Not even a single life has been lost now, while 44 people were killed in 2016, he added. Back then, he said, separatists in Jammu & Kashmir instigated residents to participate in violent protests with the strings being pulled from across the border (a reference to Pakistan), adding that this justified the blackout on communication.
The court seemed to agree with his argument even though it termed the situation in Jammu & Kashmir, serious. “We will not say anything right now and just post the matter for hearing after two weeks,” a bench of Justices Arun Mishra, MR Shah and AK Rastogi told Poonawala. The judges decided against interfering in the “absence of facts”.
The bench even declined to ask for a status report from the Centre, as suggested by the petitioner and said: “This is a very sensitive issue and needs to be considered seriously. Facilities should be given but at the same time it must be ensured there is normalcy and no life is lost.”
“There may be apprehension of a law and order problem. If something happens Centre will be held responsible. Some time needs to be given to restore normalcy. We cannot take over day-to-day administration,” Justice Mishra added.
Discontent has simmered in Kashmir since the early hours of August 5, when phone and Internet lines were suspended and restrictions placed on movement and assembly of people.
The judges also asked Venugopal to ensure facilities are restored soon. In response, the Attorney General said the situation in the Valley is being reviewed on a daily basis. “It depends upon the facts and situation. The situation is dynamic there. Changes happen from day to day. There is a large section that may not create trouble there but there is surely another that might,” he told the bench. Troops in large numbers have been sent to ensure peace, he added.
When the petitioner urged for an interim direction to let the residents access hospitals, police stations and schools, the bench said: “We agree with you that life and liberty is important. But the pros and cons of a situation need to be considered. It is for this reason that they (the government) are reviewing the situation daily. Nobody knows what is happening and what could happen.”
Poonawala’s counsel Menaka Guruswamy said even her briefing advocates – one a Kashmiri Pandit and the other a Muslim – have not been able to communicate with their respective families due to the clampdown. “It’s festival time and both cannot reach out to their families in Srinagar. I can’t imagine a Diwali when I do not get to hear my mother’s phone,” she added, pointing out that even soldiers posted in the region have not been able to call home. This prompted responses from the bench that it was clear that she was not in court “for the soldiers” and that soldiers “have to follow discipline and the rule of the law”.
At one point the bench also questioned Poonawala’s credentials. When told he was a social activist, Justice Mishra noted “These days social activists are filing all kinds of petitions.”
Earlier, advocate Vrinda Grover mentioned a public interest litigation filed by Anuradha Bhasin, editor of Kashmir Times newspaper. Her petition is about the restrictions on freedom of movement of journalists. Grover sought an early hearing of the matter, but the bench led by Justice Mishra asked the lawyer to hand over the application making the request to the registrar.
Aug 14, 2019 00:25 IST