Jammu and Kashmir: Supreme Court refuses to intervene, for now

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Published: August 14, 2019 12:44:52 AM

While the Centre submitted that it was doing everything necessary to maintain law and order in J&K, Poonawalla asked the SC to direct the government to restore essential services such as that in hospitals, police stations and schools.

“Nobody can take even a one per cent chance… in case the position remains like this then we will take a call,” the judges said.“Nobody can take even a one per cent chance… in case the position remains like this then we will take a call,” the judges said.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to interfere in the administrative restrictions imposed in Jammu and Kashmir, including restoring communication services and free movement, after the Centre removed the special category status enjoyed by the state under Article 370 last week.

Observing that the Centre was free to take the call on the curbs, given the sensitivity of the situation, a Bench led by Justice Arun Mishra said it was against playing the role of a day-to-day administrator, as restoration of normalcy in the state cannot be accomplished overnight and the government needed “reasonable time” to do so.

“Nobody can take even a one per cent chance… in case the position remains like this then we will take a call,” the judges said.

“Nothing can be done overnight. This is a serious issue. Normalcy may come, we expect it to come. We have to ensure there is no loss of life. That is more important. If the court interferes now, it is a sensitive issue. We do not know anything. We do not read the newspapers now,” Justice Mishra told senior counsel Menaka Guruswamy, who appeared for Congress leader and activist Tehseen Poonawalla, the petitioner who has challenged the Centre’s decision to impose restrictions and “other regressive measures” like curfew and information black-out, in J& K.

While the Centre submitted that it was doing everything necessary to maintain law and order in J&K, Poonawalla asked the SC to direct the government to restore essential services such as that in hospitals, police stations and schools. “Who will be blamed if something happens,” the court said while agreeing to defer for two weeks the hearing on the petition. It said the issue was too sensitive for the court to interfere as of now.

Attorney General KK Venugopal said the decision to lift the curfew and restore communications, including telephone lines and Internet, finally rested with the government. Restrictions were being eased everyday and the ground situation was being reviewed on a daily basis to prevent any untoward incident.

Assuring the court, Venugopal said, “it is in the interests of the State and the Centre that everything goes back to normalcy… We are ensuring preventive steps with least cause for inconvenience to the public.”

The AG recalled how violence went out of control in 2016 following the death of Hizb-ul- Mujahideen ‘commander’ Burhan Wani in Kashmir. “In 2016, normalcy was restored in three months. Hopefully the present situation would normalise soon,” he said.

Guruswamy said such was the situation that nobody knew about the happenings there. If government’s intention was to make Kashmiris full citizens, it could not impose such restrictions, she submitted.

She claimed that residents were unable to access hospitals or police stations like before. However, Justice Mishra said: “We are with you on life and liberty. Situation is such that we should have a real picture. This court is not posted with the details. Let us wait for some time.”

Poonawalla, who has not expressed an opinion on the amendment to Article 370, sought withdrawal of curfew and other restrictions and restoration of education and health services. The government on August 5 nullified Article 370, which accorded special status to Jammu & Kashmir, and bifurcated the state into two Union Territories — J&K and Ladakh.

Meanwhile, the Bench directed a lawyer to give the details of another petition to the registrar for early listing. The petition filed by Anuradha Bhasin, the executive editor of the Kashmir Times, has also challenged the clampdown on free movement and communications in the state. She also wants the government to relax restrictions on information sharing when significant political and constitutional changes are being forged by the Parliament on the status of J&K.

She has claimed that such restrictions violate the freedom of speech and expression and the right of the public to information and the right to practice one’s profession.

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