Justifying restrictions imposed in Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of provisions of Article 370, the Centre said on Thursday that due to the preventive steps taken, neither was a single life lost nor a single bullet fired. Attorney General KK Venugopal told the top court that instead of questions, the government should be "congratulated" for effectively handling the situation in the erstwhile state after the "historic" and "unparalleled" decision of 5 August.
He told a bench headed by Justice NV Ramana that had internet services been allowed after 5 August then with one click of a button, 10,000 messages could have been sent to thousands of separatists or other militant leaders to congregate which could have resulted in chaos and massive incidents of violence. "It is the past record which is being taken into account before taking any precautionary steps. The record shows a series of terrorist incidents in the state. In July 2016, three dreaded terrorists including Burhan Wani were killed in an encounter following which restrictions were imposed for three months in the state. At that time not a single case was filed but now 20 petitions have been filed," Venugopal said.
Responding to petitions filed by Anuradha Bhasin, editor of 'Kashmir Times' newspaper and Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, he said: "What happened on 5 August is something which is unparalleled in the history of the country in the past 70 years."
Referring to terrorism in the Valley, the attorney general said that for the past so many years terrorists were being pushed through from across the border, local militants and separatist organisations held the civilians captive in the region and it would have been "foolish" if the government would not have taken preventive steps to secure the lives of the citizens.
"Earlier, Article 370 gave a fertile ground to terrorists and Hurriyat to incite violence", he said, adding that "this (abrogation of Article 370) was an extraordinary situation and there would have been mayhem of great extent if preventive steps were not taken". He said that a "great future awaits them (people) in Jammu and Kashmir. Industries will come and development will take place".
Venugopal urged the court not to go into the nitty-gritty of how and under what circumstances Section 144 of CrPC was imposed and look at the whole picture. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Jammu and Kashmir administration, claimed that the restrictions imposed under various police stations were being relaxed on "need basis" and situation as on date has returned to normalcy.
Terming the pleas against restrictions as irrelevant and having outlived their utility, Mehta claimed that as on date hundred percent (20,411) schools are open, examination are taking place, hospitals are open, normal public and private transport services, shops are open and mobile and landline phones are working. He said all newspapers in the Valley are being published normally except for Anuradha Bhasin's 'Kashmir Times', who had "deliberately chosen" not to publish it.
"The Jammu edition of 'Kashmir Times' newspaper is being published, but for Kashmir edition it has been deliberately chosen not to publish it. There are no restrictions on the working of journalists. Internet facilities are being provided to them since 5 August," he said. The bench asked Mehta that the argument of the other side is that seven million people of the state are put under restrictions as shadow of doubt is cast upon them.
Mehta replied, "The situation in the Valley is normal for majority of the population, who are happy with the decision of the government on Article 370 but for the minuscule section with the separatist mindset the situation is not normal. This court is custodian of fundamental rights of citizens and it should protect the rights of 99.9 percent people of Jammu and Kashmir."
He said that various central laws were not applicable in the state before abrogation of Article 370 and laws such as Right to Education (RTE) Act and prohibition of child marriage. Referring to the petitioners, he said "people did not approach the court when their children were devoid of the benefits under RTE Act but now they have approached the court seeking restoration of internet services".
He said that order under Section 144 of CrPC has been removed from all 195 police stations in Jammu and Kashmir while restrictions are imposed at some places in night. "There has been a decrease in incidents of stone pelting. Last year 802 such incidents were reported. This year there have been 544 such incidents, out of which 190 such incidents of stone pelting have been reported after 5 August," Mehta said.
Earlier, senior advocate Meenakshi Arora told the apex court "the Central government cannot put a blanket ban on freedom of speech and expression." "There should be reasonable restrictions. People of this country have the right to freedom of speech and expression and nobody can put this into ransom," Arora, representing activists Shoaib Ahmed and Tehseen Poonawala, told the top court. The counsel further argued that the purpose to impose such conditions on the people "must be legitimate". "One has to listen to both sides. In a democratic setup, people of Jammu and Kashmir have all the rights to voice their opinion whatever they want and desire," she added.
Arora also cited the example of Hong Kong where the courts held that citizens had the right to cover their faces with masks and protect their identity. "The situation there was far more adverse than anywhere else," Arora argued, according to a report in Bar and Bench. Justice Ramana, responding to Arora, said the Supreme Court of India is far more superior in upholding the fundamental rights of citizens. Arora responded that she was merely drawing an analogy and that the protests were peaceful and the test of proportionality was applied, as per the report.
The arguments in the case remained inconclusive and would continue on Monday. Several petitions have been filed in the apex court against the restrictions, including on communication and internet, imposed in Kashmir following the abrogation of provisions of Article 370 on 5 August.
With inputs from agencies
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Updated Date: Nov 21, 2019 21:08:20 IST