The Supreme Court Tuesday declined to pass any order on a plea seeking relaxation of the shutdown of communication facilities as part of a lockdown in Jammu and Kashmir following the government’s decision to revoke the state’s special status and its bifurcation into two Union Territories.
Stating that the matter will be considered again after two weeks, the bench of Justices Arun Mishra, M R Shah and Ajay Rastogi said “it is a sensitive issue” and “some reasonable time must be given” to the government. The bench asked the Centre to restore normalcy in J&K “as early as possible”.
The government told the court it was reviewing the developments there on a day-to-day basis and was hopeful that things would settle “in a few days” subject to the “ground situation”.
“As early as possible, you must restore the situation,” the bench told Attorney General K K Venugopal while hearing a plea by activist Tehseen Poonawala, seeking lifting of prohibitory orders, release of political leaders and restoration of communication services.
Justice Shah said: “They said they are reviewing. So some reasonable time must be given to them… Situation is such that nobody knows what is happening. If something happens tomorrow, who will be responsible.”
Appearing for Poonawala, senior advocate Menaka Guruswamy asked “can you have a prohibition on communication to the extent that even soldiers cannot contact their families”. She said total prohibition could not be constitutionally allowed.
“Soldiers are also subject to discipline… Why are you bringing in soldiers here?” Justice Shah said. Justice Mishra said the curbs were applicable to the whole state and wondered how it could be selectively applied.
Guruswamy said she was only seeking restoration of communication facilities for at least hospitals, schools and police stations.
Turning to the Attorney General, Justice Mishra asked “how long are you going to continue with this?”. Venugopal said that the authorities were trying to improve the situation. Whatever was being done was in view of “past experience from 1990,” he said.
Referring to the 2016 killing of militant commander Burhan Wani and the breakdown of law and order in J&K, he said instructions were passed from across the border then. “It took three months” to control the situation, he said.
“Are you reviewing the situation,” asked Justice Mishra.
“Yes every day… In a few days, it will be settled, but that depends on the ground situation…The situation is dynamic. It’s changing day to day. There are large sections who want to live in peace. But there are some who are looking for opportunities,” Venugopal said, adding that restoring normalcy was in everybody’s interest.
At this, Justice Mishra said these are “sensitive situations… Not even one per cent chance can be taken.”
Guruswamy said she could not think of a Deepawali when she could not speak to her mother.
Venugopal said the petition was not by someone who was affected but by an activist. “We are ensuring that least human rights violations take place,” he said, reiterating that “review is being doing daily”.
“In July 2016, 47 lives were lost,” he said, referring to the aftermath of the killing of Burhan Wani. “Today not a single died.”
Justice Mishra said “it’s a serious issue. Nothing can be done overnight…. At the same time, normalcy has to be restored, and no loss of lives”. He said given the nature of the issue, it may not be possible to keep even the court posted on the complete facts. Justice Shah added: “Nobody knows what’s the input.”
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the decision to place or relax restrictions was taken by District Magistrates and at some places there may be checks, while at other places, they may be relaxed depending on the situation there.
Justice Mishra then told Guruswamy “We are with you on the question of liberties. As he says, normalcy may have come back in some districts, not in some others. Court can’t be taking the place of day-to-day administration. When the situation is such, we must have a real picture before we take a call on this… Wait for some time.”
Justice Shah said if the situation remained the same, the petitioner could return with full particulars.
Earlier in the day, another petition filed by Anuradha Bhasin, Executive Editor of the daily Kashmir Times, was mentioned before a bench headed by Justice Mishra for urgent hearing. The court asked the petitioner to approach the Registrar, saying it will consider the plea.