NEW DELHI: in a significant ruling, Supreme Court on Friday held right to internet part of freedom of speech and expression and ordered the Jammu and Kashmir administration to review within one week all restrictive orders including the suspension of internet following the abrogation of Article 370.
This judgment was delivered by a Bench of Justices NV Ramana, R Subhash Reddy, and BR Gavai on a batch of petitions challenging the restrictions imposed in Jammu and Kashmir after the end of special status to the erstwhile state.
Pronouncing the verdict, the Justice Ramana said; "liberty and security are always at loggerheads. It is the Court's job to ensure that the citizens are provided all rights and security."
The court criticized the use of the colonial era Section 144, or a rule to ban large gatherings, in the former state that was bifurcated into two union territories as part of the government's decision to scrap Article 370. "It can't be used as a tool to oppress difference of opinion," the judge was quoted by NDTV as saying.
"Test of proportionality needs to be satisfied. This freedom can only be restricted after relevant factors are considered and only if there are no other options," the judge said.
The centre had justified restrictions imposed in Jammu and Kashmir after the provisions of Article 370 were removed and said that due to the preventive steps taken, neither a single life was lost nor a single bullet was fired.
Besides Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, the top court had heard the petitions filed by Anuradha Bhasin, Executive Editor of Kashmir Times, and others questioning restrictions in Kashmir.
The petitioners argued that the day to day lives of the people living under these restrictions was adversely affected, with children being prevented from going to school, emergency facilities like hospitals and medical care units facing problems on account of communication restrictions, and businesses and banking facilities taking a hit on account of no internet, said a Bar & Bench report.
The government justified the internet restrictions on the grounds that the same prevented the spreading of anti-India messaging propagated from across the border and was done to maintain peace and order in the valley. The government also invoked the instance of 2016 when the internet was shut down in the valley for almost three months after the killing of Hizbul operative Burhan Wani.
The petitioners also stressed on the fact that the citizenry was not informed of orders under Section 144 being passed. The orders under Section 144 and others directing for imposition of various restrictions ought to be produced before the Court, at the very least, the petitioners had argued.
When asked about his petition at a press conference earlier, Azad had said: “My petition is non-political. It is my personal petition and not on behalf of the Congress party. It is on humanitarian grounds. I have expressed a concern as a citizen of the state and as an MP from the state,” Azad was quoted by Firstpost as saying.
“I tried to visit the state three times but was sent back, twice from Srinagar and once from Jammu. Approximately one third of our people are labourers. They are daily-wage earners. Nobody has paid attention to them. It has been 42 days (since restrictions have been imposed). Do they have food to eat? Nobody has bothered about their plight. So I am raising a humanitarian issue. It is a humanitarian question for the state government, Central government, media and the entire country,” he added.