Supreme Court asks govt to review J&K's internet curbs in a week
10 January 2020
The Supreme Court has asked the Jammu and Kashmir administration to lift all internet curbs in the region, pointing out that an indefinite internet shutdown is abuse of power, and ordered a review of all restrictive orders in place since the government ended special status to the former state in August.
"Suspension of free movement, internet and basic freedoms cannot be an arbitrary exercise of power," said the Supreme Court, even as it stressed that "mere expression of dissent or disagreement against a government decision cannot be reason for internet suspension."
"Suspending internet should be reviewed forthwith. Such suspension can only be for a limited time period and is subject to judicial review," the apex court said. The court also directed the government to make public all restrictive orders imposed in J&K since the scrapping of Article 370 status.
The government had ended Jammu and Kashmir's special status on 5 August 2019.
The SC decision, read out by Justice NV Ramanna, comes on a batch of petitions challenging the internet restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir.
"Freedom of speech and expression includes the right to internet within Article 19," said a three-judge bench, asking the government to consider restoring government websites and e-facilities where internet abuse is minimal. A complete ban on internet must be considered by the state only as an extraordinary measure, said the court.
The test of proportionality needs to be satisfied in such restrictions, he said. "This freedom can only be restricted after relevant factors are considered and only if there are no other options," the judge said.
On imposition of Section 144 in the former state that was bifurcated into two union territories, the SC said, it can't be used as a tool to oppress difference of opinion.
"Our limited concern is to find a balance regarding security and liberty of people. We only here to ensure citizens are provided their rights. We will not delve into the political intent behind the orders given," said Justice Ramana.
The three-judge bench included Justice R Subhash Reddy and Justice BR Gavai.
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.
The petitions were filed by Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anuradha Bhasin, executive editor of Kashmir Times, and several others opposing restrictions in Kashmir.