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The Supreme Court has been moved to relax restrictions on communication services and movement in Jammu and Kashmir, in view of the continuing lockdown in the State after the Central Government’s move to scrap Article 370 of the Constitution last week.
The plea moved by Anuradha Bhasin, Executive Editor of the Kashmir Times newspaper highlights that the shutdown of internet and telecommunication, the severe restrictions on mobility and the sweeping curtailment on information sharing, at a time when significant political and constitutional changes are being forged by the Parliament to the status of Jammu and Kashmir, violate the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19, the right of the public to information and the right to practice one’s profession.
The petition states,
“The information blackout set in motion is a direct and grave violation of the right of the people to know about the decisions that directly impact their lives and their future. The internet and telecommunication shutdown also means that the media cannot report on the aforesaid developments, and the residents of Kashmir thus do’not get access to information that is otherwise publicly available to the rest of India.”
The petitioner has also informed,
“Due to the severe and pervasive restrictions imposed by the Respondents, the Petitioner’s newspaper, Kashmir Times, Srinagar edition, could not be distributed and circulated on 05.08.2019. Since 06.08.2019 the,Petitioner has not been able to print and publish the Kashmir edition, of Kashmir Times, as the complete and absolute restrictions on all communication services has resulted in the imposition of a de facto blockade on media activities, including reporting and publishing…
…other newspapers and journalists are also facing similar barriers and are unable to report from and discharge their professional duty in Kashmir…”
In this backdrop, the petitioner argues for the withdrawal of Government restrictions in the State, terming the lockdown to be an abuse of State power. The petition states,
“… The lack of information continues to fuel speculation and mistrust as the Kashmir valley remains an information blackhole. In view of the same, it is imperative that, conditions that enable the media to carry out its work of news gathering, reporting, writing, publishing and distribution and dissemination of news -as the fourth pillar of democracy,- are restored at the earliest.
In fact it would be beneficial in the current context if communication channels are kept open and the free flow of information vide media reporting is facilitated through the removal of all such restrictions which hinder media reportage…
… The State has… completely disabled journalists and trampled over press freedoms in an arbitrary, unreasonable, and constitutes an abuse of State power. This snatching away of the means of news reporting is an assault on the very right of the media to report, and the same is an unconstitutional use of administrative power by the State. In Sakal Papers (Pvt) Ltd v Union of India (1962) 3 SCR 842, this manner of using indirect means to impinge, on the freedom of newspapers was held unconstitutional… “
Inter alia, the petitioner points out that the residents of the State are yet to be informed under what authority the restrictions were imposed. In this regard, the petition states,
“No formal orders under which such action was taken was communicated to the residents of Kashmir in a proper manner. The power and authority under which such action was ordered is still unknown to the Petitioner. The communication blockade resulted in a virtual blackout, and media’ reporting became impossible.”
The petitioner has also juxtaposed public claims made by the government “that there is peace and normalcy in Kashmir” with several media reports concerning the difficulties faced by the press and the public impact of the communication lockdown.
Contending that the continuing restrictions are “excessive, disproportionate and gross abuse of State power” the plea calls on the Supreme Court to issue directions to the Government to “immediately relax all restrictions on mobile, internet and landline services in Jammu and Kashmir and the strict restrictions on freedom of movement in order to enable journalists to practise their profession and exercise their right to report.”
The prayers made by the petitioner include the following:
The petitioner is represented by Advocates Vrinda Grover, Soutik Banerjee and Ratna Appnender. The petition has been filed through Advocate Sumika Hazarika.