In a major development, the Supreme Court on Friday has ordered the Jammu and Kashmir administration to review all restrictive orders within a week. The top Court, while pronouncing the verdict on a batch of pleas, including that of Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, challenging the restrictions imposed in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, after the abrogation of Article 370, has said Section 144 cannot be used as a tool to suppress dissent. It also said that internet suspension is subject to judicial review.
The verdict was pronounced by a three-judge bench comprising of Justice N V Ramana, Justice R Subhash Reddy and Justice B R Gavai. The three-judge bench had reserved the judgement on November 27 last year. Besides Azad, the apex court had heard the petitions filed by Anuradha Bhasin, Executive Editor of Kashmir Times, and few intervenors questioning restrictions in the valley.
Beginning the verdict by quoting from Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities" - "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times", Justice Ramana said that Freedom of speech and expression includes the right to internet within Article 19, and Court's "limited concern" is to find a balance regarding security and liberty of people. The Court clearly stated that internet suspension can only be a temporary measure.
The top court has also observed that the ban on the internet should be an extreme measure to be considered by the state. Pulling up the Centre, the SC stated that the Central government's refusal not to produce all documents citing privilege cannot be a valid ground. The apex court also told the Centre to allow government websites and e-banking facilities.
On November 21, the Centre had justified restrictions imposed in Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of provisions of Article 370. The Centre had said that due to the preventive steps taken, neither a single life was lost nor a single bullet fired. The Centre had referred to terror violence in the Kashmir Valley and said that for the past so many years terrorists were being pushed through from across the border, local militants and separatist organisation had 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 citizens.
On August 5, Parliament abrogated Article 370 of Indian Constitution that exempted Jammu and Kashmir from following the Indian Constitution except for Article 1 and itself. Announcing the decision in the Parliament, Home Minister Amit Shah said that it will correct a "historic wrong". Additionally, the Modi government bifurcated the state of Jammu and Kashmir and changed its status to Union Territories - Jammu Kashmir and Ladakh.
The bill named Jammu & Kashmir Reorganisation Bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha by 125-61 margin and the Lok Sabha by a whooping 351-72 margin on August 5,6 respectively. While the Opposition condemned this move calling it an attack on 'Kashmiriyat', Shah said that it will integrate of Jammu and Kashmir with the country like never before.
Ahead of the historic decision, the Central government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi placed around 40,000 troops in the state and placed the mainstream leaders including three chief ministers - NC's Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, and PDP's Mehbooba Mufti on preventive custody. The Centre after intimation from Army also evacuated Amarnath yatris, and the Chinar Corps of Indian Army revealed that they had intelligence inputs that there were attempts of attacks on Amarnath Yatra by Pakistan.