On 10 January, the Supreme Court stated that the internet ban in Jammu and Kashmir is a violation of both the telecom rules and the freedom of speech and expression granted by the Constitution of India. The court further directed the Jammu and Kashmir administration to review all the restrictive orders imposed on the state, within a week.
The three-judge bench comprising of Justices N.V. Ramana, R. Subhash Reddy, and B.R. Gavai, while hearing the petitions challenging the constitutionality of the Centre’s decision of J&K lockdown, following the abrogation of Article 370, pointed out that freedom of speech and expression includes the right to receive and disseminate information. The court also observed that trade and commerce are dependent on the internet, and the freedom to practice such trade is constitutionally protected under Article 19(1)(g).
“Our limited concern is to find a balance regarding the security and liberty of people. We are only here to ensure citizens are provided their rights. We will not delve into the political intent behind the orders given,” Justice Ramana said.
As per sources, the internet has been suspended for more than 150 days in Kashmir starting from August 2019, making it the longest blackout in any democracy.
Petitions had been filed by Anuradha Bhasin, the executive editor of Kashmir Times, Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad and few others. They argued that the restrictions imposed by the Kashmir government failed to satisfy the tests of reasonableness and proportionality. The petitioners further stated that sectors like education, medical care, business, agriculture, and tourism have been hit by the lockdown.
However, the defense lawyers for the Centre and the J&K administration stated that “Such restrictions were necessary and preventive steps taken in the interest of national security. The internet ban was a necessary action to cut off coordination amongst militants.” They further held that the restrictions had resulted in the ‘historic’ decision being implemented ‘without bloodshed’ and further claimed that neither a single life was lost nor a single bullet fired since the abrogation Article 370.
‘Right to the internet comes within the freedom of speech and the curbs should be put on the internet only in unavoidable situations,’ noted the SC bench. The court further asked the J&K administration to publish every order of restriction under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to enable those affected, to challenge it. Further, ‘any order passed will be subject to the judicial review,’ held the SC.
‘Section 144 of CrPC cannot be used to curb liberty, it can be used only where there is a likelihood of incitement of violence and danger to public safety. Some trade and occupations are dependent on the internet and the authorities must explore alternate means before doing that,’ the apex court submitted. The court further ordered the J&K administration to restore internet services.
As per reports, the Kashmir lockdown has resulted in the loss of more than $2.6 billion for the economy.