The Supreme Court on Friday directed the Jammu and Kashmir administration to review all orders imposing communication blockades including Internet in a week’s time and continue reviewing the same, periodically, in future.
Delivering its reserved verdict on a batch of petitions challenging curbs on communication and other restrictions in the Union Territory, a division bench of Justices NV Ramana, R Subhash Reddy and BR Gavai said failure to review Internet suspension or further suspensions will be held as contempt of court.
It asked the UT administration to publish all orders under Section 144 Cr.PC imposing prohibitory restrictions in the wake of repeal of special status to J&K under Article 370 of the Constitution in August last year.
The court had reserved its judgement on November 27 after advocate Vrinda Grover and senior advocates Kapil Sibal, Raju Ramchandran, Huzefa Ahmedi and Dushyant Dave concluded arguments in the matter on petitions challenging the curbs.
The court observed that dissemination of information is important and the importance of Internet cannot be ignored.
“Indefinite Internet ban is not permissible.Telecom rules have been violated,” it said, referring to J&K.
The bench said it had considered issues whether freedom of Internet is part of the fundamental rights, whether the government prohibition of Internet is right and also if the rights of the petitioners have been violated by the actions of the authorities.
Justice Ramana said the right to freedom of speech and expression through Internet was part of the fundamental right under Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution.
He said, “We will not delve into the political intent behind the orders given.”
During the hearings on the petitions, Sibal had told the court that the Section 144 order in the UT had long lapsed but the curfew still existed for all practical means.
He had also said Section 144 was for purposes of public order unlike the Kashmir scenario where the reason argued in the court by the authorities was “national security”.
The senior counsel had stressed there cannot be a Section 144 order for 7 million people.
Grover, appearing for Kashmir Times Editor Anuradha Bhasin, had contested the restrictions on communications (including Internet and phones) by terming them unconstitutional.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who represented the J&K administration, had refuted the claims of Sibal and Grover, citing data and claiming that normalcy was being restored in the erstwhile state.
He had claimed that neither a single life was lost nor a single bullet fired during the curbs imposed in the region.
The bench had said: “We are more concerned about the future.”