The Supreme Court of India on Friday ordered immediate review of internet suspension in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, while pronouncing its verdict on a batch of pleas, including that of Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad challenging the restrictions imposed in the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) following abrogation of provisions of Article 370.
Restrictions on fundamental rights cannot be done by arbitrary exercise of power, said Justice Ramana while reading out the verdict.
Freedom of speech and expression includes right to internet within Article 19 of the Constitution of India, said the apex court.
SC also ordered restoration of internet services in all institutions providing essential services like hospitals, educational centres.
The Bench included Justice R Subhash Reddy and Justice B R Gavai.In August 2019, the Modi government moved to amend Article 370 of the Constitution, which provided a special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and also proposed the bifurcation of the state into two Union Territories, Jammu & Kashmir, and Ladakh. The Jammu & Kashmir Reorganisation Act took place on October 31, 2019.
However, the decision was questioned by the state and opposition parties that raised concerns over the 'intentions' of the central government.
The government’s move to revoke some provisions of Article 370 was aimed at redrawing the map and the future of a region at the centre of protracted militancy. Kashmir was placed under a total clampdown and restrictions were imposed on the movement of people as well as on modes of communication including mobile communication and internet services on August 5, hours before Union Home Minister Amit Shah announced the changes to Article 370.
The government had deployed security forces to curb any form of protest. Though most services, except mobile internet, were restored in Jammu within a week, Kashmir saw landlines and post-paid services being restored in phases.
Moreover, former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah and People's Democratic Party (PDP) leader Mehbooba Mufti were detained for protesting against the withdrawal of special status from J&K.
The government elaborated reasons behind imposing restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir, and said that the Centre took these precautionary measures to keep situation contained in anticipation of violence in view of statements made by of various leaders of the state. It also added saying, “Whenever local law-enforcing agencies feel such a need based on their assessment of the situation, they carry out action accordingly”.
Due to the preventive steps taken, neither a single life was lost nor did a single bullet fired, said government officials.
The government also cited the instance of the 2016 killing of militant Burhan Wani when Jammu and Kashmir was put under restrictions and a communication blockade was imposed, adding "many lives were lost as social media was used to spread misinformation that time".
The Centre 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.