The Supreme Court Thursday told the J&K administration to “come with clear answers” on how long it intends to keep in place the restrictions imposed ahead of the August 5 announcement ending the special status of the state under Article 370.
While the administration maintained it was reviewing the situation daily, Justice N V Ramana, heading a three-judge bench, questioned Solicitor General Tushar Mehta who appeared for J&K: “It’s already two months. How long will the restrictions be in place?”. Posting the matter for further hearing on November 5, Justice Ramana told Mehta “you have to come with clear answers”.
The bench, also comprising Justices R Subhash Reddy and B R Gavai, is hearing Kashmir Times Executive Editor Anuradha Bhasin’s petition challenging the communication blackout imposed in the state.
Justice Reddy too said: “You may impose restrictions from time to time, but you have to review it daily.”
“We are,” replied Mehta, adding that 99 per cent of J&K was now without movement restrictions.
Appearing for the petitioner, advocate Vrinda Grover said the Internet shutdown was total.
Mehta protested, saying when Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was killed by security forces, Internet was shut down for three months. He wondered why no one rushed to the court then. “This has trans-border implications,” he said.
Countering him, Grover said that according to government data, there was a fall in terror activities in J&K and this showed there was no relation between terror and access to Internet.
The court also fixed November 5 as the date for hearing other petitions including a writ of habeas corpus by CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury on the detention of party colleague Mohd Yusuf Tarigami. The lawyer who appeared in the matter requested the court to permit him to file an affidavit, saying Tarigami was still being subjected to the same restrictions as earlier in J&K.
The Solicitor General objected: “What detention? He conducted a press conference in Delhi yesterday.”
The court also took up the plea of Asifa Mubeen, challenging the detention of her husband Mubeen Ahmed Shah.
Mehta told the court that a writ of habeas corpus on this had already been filed in the J&K High Court and that it had been reserved for judgment.
Senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, appearing for the petitioner, said his client did not have anything to do with that petition and her consent was not taken before its filing. He said it was filed by some lawyer sitting in New York “who wanted to be in the limelight”.
But Mehta pointed out that as per the court, the brother of the detenu was present in the court room during the hearing. The petitioner, he said, should wait for the High Court order. He said there was now an order of detention and the petitioner should challenge that.
When Sankaranarayanan repeated his contention, Justice Reddy asked him: “Did you make any attempt to withdraw the petition? What is this? One petition here, one there.”
Intervening, Attorney General K K Venugopal said “I think they should wait for the HC order.” The bench agreed and asked the HC to decide the matter expeditiously.
It also tagged writ petitions challenging Article 35A to those challenging changes to Article 370 which the court had already fixed for hearing on November 14.