NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to direct the Central government to lift restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir and granted the Centre more time to withdraw the curbs as the situation is “very sensitive”.
A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra was hearing a petition filed by political activist Tehseen Poonawalla. The bench, comprising judges M.R. Shah and Ajay Rastogi, said it will wait for normalcy to return, while adjourning the case for two weeks.
Senior counsel Menaka Guruswamy, appearing on behalf of Poonawalla, sought directions to reopen schools and hospitals, and to allow police stations to function normally. Guruswamy strongly argued against the blocking of telephones and other modes of communication in J&K.
“We have to ensure that the law and order situation in J&K is maintained,” attorney general K.K. Venugopal told the bench, recounting the events of 2016 after the killing of terrorist Burhan Wani when a lot of casualties were reported in J&K. He added that it took around three months to bring normalcy at that time.
Venugopal said 44,000 people have been killed by extremists since 1990, and that people from across the border had been guiding and giving instructions to them. The measures have been taken to prevent an escalation of tension, he said, assuring that the restrictions would be lifted soon.
“Are you reviewing the situation, are these restrictions essential? How long would you continue with this?” the Supreme Court asked.
Venugopal replied that districts magistrates are reviewing the situation in each district and that restrictions would be removed soon, depending on the situation in each district.
“The government also wants normalcy…we have a statement from the attorney general,” observed Shah. “In cases like these, all pros and cons have to be considered. Who will be responsible if something really bad happens tomorrow?”
The bench decided to grant time to the government and stated that a real picture of the situation in J&K has to be placed before the bench before it can pass any order.
The bench was also very critical of the petition filed by Poonawalla. “Even the petitioner may not know the truth. It is a very badly drafted petition.”
The petitioner was directed to be prepared with complete details of the situation on the next hearing.
The petition was mentioned for the first time on 8 August but the court refused an early hearing. The petition sought directions to release political leaders kept under house arrest, unblock internet services and appoint a judicial commission to assess the ground situation.
On 8 August, advocate Suhail Malik pleaded on behalf of Poonawalla and sought immediate directions for withdrawing “curfew/restrictions” and other measures, including blocking of phone lines, internet and news channels. He said people need to talk to their family and have the right to find out about their well-being in the situation prevailing there. He said he was not expressing any opinion on Article 370 and the presidential order but contended that the restrictions violate the fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 19 and 21 of the Constitution.