‘Govt suppressed relevant orders concerning communications shutdown in Kashmir’

In a rejoinder filed in the Supreme Court, the Editor of <i>Kashmir Times</i> Anuradha Bhasin says the government has been economical with the truth and kept the court in the dark

Supreme Court of India (File photo)
Supreme Court of India (File photo)

NH Web Desk

Government of India has failed to produce relevant orders, documents and circulars concerning the internet and communications shutdown in Jammu & Kashmir in its affidavit before the Supreme Court, alleges a rejoinder filed by Anuradha Bhasin.

These documents, the rejoinder states, are essential and pertinent for the adjudication of the writ petition filed by her challenging the decision to impose such restrictions in the region. Her affidavit says:

Bhasin states that in addition to the fundamental rights violations and the curb on press freedom, her petition also concerns the constitutionality of a shutdown of this nature. In the absence of relevant documents pursuant to the same, the validity cannot be examined, she contends.

The Centre has filed "evasive pleadings" to avoid determination of the validity of these orders, Bhasin has averred in the affidavit, filed two days ahead of the hearing in the case.

The Centre, in its affidavit before the Supreme Court, justified the shutdown in the region by citing the example of the three-month-long internet shutdown in Kashmir valley in the year 2016 following the killing of the Hizbul terrorist Burhan Wani. The main justifications for the shutdown were national security and the law and order situation in the region, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had submitted before the Court.

Bhasin counters this submission of the Centre by citing the official position taken by the Government of India as regards militancy and terrorism in Kashmir.

The Union of India has maintained that terrorism and militancy in the valley have reduced significantly and in light of this, there is no reason for "sweeping and generalized apprehensions about disturbance of peace and order, or the dissemination of iniquitous rumours and fake propaganda", the rejoinder states.

Some other relevant excerpts from the affidavit, accessed by National Herald, are reproduced below:

  • It is submitted that access to the internet is a basic and essential facet to the freedom of speech and expression and the Right to know, including the right of the media to report freely. Further, the access to the internet is an indispensable requirement for access to various other fundamental rights, such as access to healthcare and statutory welfare schemes, to which persons are entitled in law.
  • Petitioner and her staffers, after making herculean efforts were able to print a truncated version of the newspaper from Srinagar on 11.10.2019. however, only about 500 copies could be printed due to operational roadblocks created by the communications shutdown. Further, the network of newspaper distribution is still severely hit by the communications shutdown, and this restricts circulation to within Srinagar only.
  • It is the contention of the Petitioner that no orders under section 144 CrPC pertaining to the restrictions from 04.08.2019 onwards in the Kashmir valley, have been provided or uploaded for public knowledge.
  • That the (government’s) averment about misuse of internet by anti-India elements to spread false provocative content is a criticism of the internet in general, and is not unique to the Kashmir Valley. This is a classic case of a blunt instrument being used, enforcing a collective punishment on the entire population of Kashmir valley by denying them access to mobile and internet services.
  • Respondents must place before the court copies of all orders /directions passed under Rule 2(1) of The temporary Suspension of telecom Services (Public emergency or Public Safety) Rules 2017. (These rules) require strict compliance with procedural safeguards against abuse… in the absence of pleadings and documents, it can only be assumed that the provisions have not been complied with.
  • The (government’s) averment that the “restrictions are only temporary in character is misleading, vague and inactionable. It has been 68 days since the mobile and internet services were arbitrarily shut down.
  • The state interest of security must be balanced against individual and media rights, and it cannot override them.
  • It is denied that the Media Facilitation Center, Srinagar, operated till 11 PM at night…Further, the same is inadequate and in breach of informational privacy.

A number of petitions related to Jammu & Kashmir, including that filed by Bhasin, are scheduled to be taken up for hearing on October 16.

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Published: 14 Oct 2019, 8:14 PM