The Supreme Court on Thursday resumed the hearing on a batch of petitions led by Kashmir Times Editor Anuradha Bhasin challenging the restrictions imposed in Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh after the abrogation of Article 370 was announced by the Union on August 5. At the very outset of the hearing, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appearing for J&K made it clear to the bench that the facts being asserted by the petitioners alleging lockdown in the area were “completely incorrect” and that the government “will counter every point raised by the petitioners."
After the previous hearings, during which the Supreme Court heard detailed arguments on behalf of the petitioners from Senior Advocates Vrinda Grover, Kapil Sibal, Hufeza Ahmadi and Dushyant Dave, on Thursday, brief arguments were made by Senior Advocate Meenakshi Arora appearing for the intervenors. Arora detailed the current situation in J&K and Ladakh in the aftermath of the abrogation stating that the communication channels in the area had been cut off since August 4 and doing so is a violation of the freedom of speech of lakhs of citizens. “People have a right to speak out about whether they support this move or not” argued Arora.
In the course of her arguments, she also relied on the recent protests witnessed against the Hong Kong government over the Hong Kong Human Rights Act the subsequent order passed by the Hong Kong High Court. Arora stated that the Hong Kong Court applied a test of proportionality in giving its verdict on the protests. Justice N.V. Ramana in a quick response told Meenakshi Arora that the Indian Supreme Court was “far more superior” when it came to the question of protecting fundamental rights of Indian citizens.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta then began a series of arguments justifying the government’s decision to abrogate Article 370 and the consequent security restrictions issued in the area immediately after. Tushar Mehta stated before the bench led by Justice Ramana that the fundamental duty of the government was to ensure the safety and security of the citizens in the country and protect their lives and property. Mehta stated that “the rights of the citizens had not been taken away [through the abrogation of Article 370], rather, the rights had been conferred after many years.
To substantiate his arguments, the Solicitor General relied on the past instances when India has been a victim of cross-border terrorism. “It’s not a revolt from within but from across borders,” said Mehta. “Terrorists are taking help of locals with a separatist mindset and perpetrating attacks from across the border, even through digital mediums.” “Out of a total of 71000 terrorists feared to be in the region, 22536 terrorists have been killed since 1947. Out of these 365 have been killed in 2019 alone. Over 14000 civilians and 5292 security personnel have lost their lives in the past 70 years” argued Tushar Mehta before the Supreme Court.
On being asked what the status of the restrictions imposed in the area was, Mehta presented more statistics to the bench – Over 59 lakh mobile phone connections have been restored, 93,247 landlines restored, 20,411 schools reopened, banking services are fully functional, there has been a significant reduction in incidents of stone-pelting, restrictions around 202 police stations have been lifted, not a single civilian death has come to light since August 5 and over Rs. 25 crores have come in through tourism with over 34 lakh tourists who have come to the region. “The government is constantly reviewing the situation” Tushar Mehta reassured the Supreme Court. “It is not an en-masse lockdown as is being projected by the petitioners.”
Another interesting fact brought to light through the Solicitor General was that the decision on the imposition of Section 144 in certain parts of the region was being taken by the “officers on ground”. Mehta stated that a regular threat perception is being undertaken by the officers on the ground who then take a call on the imposition of Section 144 in that area. “Majority of the citizens in the area are peaceful. Only a minuscule minority is upset,” said Mehta.
Going one step further and batting for the security forces of the country in the highest court of law, Mehta said, “We should be proud of our forces. Trivialization of armed forces is absolutely unacceptable." The Centre has time and again stated before the Supreme Court that the restrictions imposed in Jammu & Kashmir are a “temporary measure” while the government reviews the situation on a daily basis. The petitioners, on the other hand, have interestingly argued that the erstwhile state was put under lockdown on August 4, one day before the Centre officially diluted Article 370. Since there was no justifiable reason to put lakhs of citizens under lockdown in absence of any extraordinary situation (as was the case on August 4), the order imposing restrictions on the people was not only arbitrary, rather in violation of the fundamental rights of the citizens. The arguments in the matter are now expected to continue on November 26 at 12:00 pm.