New Delhi: In a massive relief for the residents of Kashmir, the Supreme Court on Friday directed authorities in the Union Territory to restore internet services. “It is no doubt that freedom of speech is an essential tool in a democratic set up. Freedom of Internet access is a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a) of free speech“, said a three-judge bench comprises of Justices NV Ramana, R Subhash Reddy and BR Gavai, while delivering verdict on a batch of pleas, including that of senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad.
The court also directed the Jammu and Kashmir government to review all restrictive orders within a week. Besides, it also noted that Section 144 can not be used to oppress voices of dissent. The Court said that indefinite internet ban by the State is not permissible under our Constitution and it is an abuse of power”, advocate Sadan Farasat told reporters outside the top court.
On November 27, 2019, the three-judge bench had reserved judgement. Besides Azad, the court also heard the petitions filed by Anuradha Bhasin, Executive Editor of Kashmir Times, and few interveners, who challenged the imposition of restrictions on the valley after August 5.
The Supreme Court had said that “we are more concerned about the future”, as it reserved its verdict. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta consistently maintained that during the imposition of the restriction in the Jammu and Kashmir region, neither a single life was lost nor a single bullet was fired.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing Azad, had said that restrictions have virtually abrogated the fundamental rights and paralyzed the lives of seven million people in the region. He contended that restrictions have been imposed under the garb of public tranquillity, public order and national security, but national security does not appear in the order imposing Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code in the region.
“This is not about the past, but it is about the future”, he submitted before the bench on the final day of the hearing.
Earlier last year in August, the Narendra Modi-led government had revoked Article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcated the state into union territories- Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, which officially came into existence from October 31, 2019. Following the government’s move, severe restrictions were imposed in the Valley as a precautionary measure. Additional troops were also deployed and section 144 was imposed on parts of the territory. Apart from these, all means of communication were also suspended.