The J&K administration was in the spotlight Thursday when it was told by the Supreme Court that it will have to respond to each and every question raised on restrictions imposed in the wake of the August 5 announcement ending the special status of the state under Article 370.
The bench of Justices N V Ramana, R Subhash Reddy and B R Gavai, hearing petitions challenging the restrictions, told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who appeared for J&K, that he must answer all questions so that the impression does not go out that the government was not serious about the case.
Mehta told the bench this was not the case because the situation in J&K was improving every day. He said he was ready with a status report, as sought by the court, detailing the ground situation as on November 20. The data, he said, “reflects normalcy in Kashmir and not otherwise, as sought to be projected by the petitioners”.
During the hearing, attempts by a lawyer to compare the situation in Hong Kong with that prevailing in J&K had the court inquiring if Hong Kong too faced cross-border terror.
“Whether in Hong Kong also there is an issue of cross-border terrorism?” Justice Gavai asked Senior Advocate Meenakshi Arora who was appearing for some interveners in the case. His query came after Arora said the “situation in Hong Kong was far more worse… far more adverse that what we had in Kashmir… there were daily protests”. She pointed to the Hong Kong High Court order lifting a ban on protesters wearing face masks.
The bench asked her if there was any need to rely on judgments of foreign courts when there were enough Indian judgments upholding fundamental freedoms. Arora replied that she was only referring to it to highlight how the High Court had applied the proportionality test.
The Centre, meanwhile, told the court that it would have been seen as “negligence” on the part of the government if it had not taken preventive action in J&K, keeping in mind the region’s history. The J&K administration said there was due application of mind by the authorities while putting the restrictions in place on August 5.
Appearing for the Centre, Attorney General K K Venugopal referred to the killings and violence that existed in the region and said Pakistan and its secret service ISI were fomenting trouble and even the Pakistan High Commission in India was accused of channeling funds to separatists.
“With this, it would have been very foolish if preventive steps were not taken,” Venugopal said. He told the court “don’t get into the nitty-gritty of what was written and what was not… look at the broader picture”.
Solicitor General Mehta contended that rights were not taken away from the people of J&K as claimed by the petitioners, but conferred on them for the first time in 70 years. The Right to Education Act, he said, was not applicable to J&K, but no public-spirited person ever came to the court to say their children cannot study. He said they were now saying that lack of Internet was a curb on freedom of speech and expression.
He said an impression was sought to be given that the state was placed under curfew by some order that was being dictated from above, but the fact was that the decision for each area was taken locally, keeping in mind the situation in these areas and after assessing intelligence inputs, military intelligence inputs, the ability of terrorists and separatists to foment trouble in these areas.
Not one person was killed after August 5, he said, adding that this was to the credit of the security forces. “It has to be acclaimed. But it was sought to be trivialized by saying you impose curfew in the entire state and then claim no murder took place,” he said.
On the situation in the region, Mehta said all 20,411 schools were open and examinations were going on as per schedule. He said misinformation was being spread that schools in J&K were open but there was no attendance. “Out of 50,537 students of 11th standard in Kashmir Valley, 50,272 students i.e. 99.48% appeared in the examination. Further, 99.7% students are writing the 10th and 12th class examinations,” he said.
Reeling off statistics from the report, Mehta said that since August 5, 43,998 kilo litres of petrol, 37,129 kilo litres of diesel, 4,921 kilo litres of kerosene and 15,74,873 LPG cylinders had been Issued.
On the apple crop, Mehta said 11.59 lakh metric tonnes of apples have been exported from J&K for sale in addition to NAFED purchasing 8069 metric tonnes of apples from farmers who could not sell their produce.
He said there had been a decrease in incidents of stone-pelting — from 802 such incidents in 2018 to 544 in 2019, of which only 190 incidents had been reported after August 5.
On medical facilities, the report said that all hospitals and medical centres are open in the Valley. In Srinagar city, a total of 7,67,475 OPD patients were treated in September and 7,91,470 in October.
All 93,247 landline phones, the report said, are functioning in the region. Also, out of 59,76,359 mobile phones, voice calls were enabled on 20,05,293 post-paid mobile phones in the Valley.
Government offices and courts were also fully functional, the report said, adding that since August 5, people had filed about 36,492 cases in the region. As many as 52,096 cases have been disposed by courts, including the lower judiciary and the High Court.
It also said that the Block Development Council polls held in October witnessed 98.3% of polling from among 26,629 panchayat representatives.
On public transport, Mehta pointed out that from August 12 to November 19, buses including those of the State Road Transport Corporation had conducted 1,446 trips and that on November 19,319 buses were on the roads.