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Editor of Kashmir Times Anuradha Bhasin has alleged that the Government of India has suppressed relevant orders, documents and circulars concerning the internet and communications shutdown in Jammu & Kashmir.
Bhasin made these claims in a rejoinder affidavit filed before the Supreme Court. These documents, Bhasin adds, are essential and pertinent for the adjudication of the writ petition filed by her challenging the decision to impose such restrictions in the region. The affidavit says,
“The Respondent No. 2 has suppressed relevant orders/notifications/circulars/directions/documents which are essential for proper adjudication of the present writ petition and require judicial scrutiny for determining its constitutionality.
…The Respondent Nos 1 and 2 have not placed any such orders before this Hon’ble Court and suppressed the said orders in its Affidavit.”
In addition to the fundamental rights violations and the curb on press freedom, Bhasin states that her petition also concerns the constitutionality of a shutdown of this nature. In the absence of relevant documents pursuant to the same, the validity cannot be examined.
The Centre has filed “evasive pleadings” to avoid determination of the validity of these orders, Bhasin has averred in the affidavit filed two days ahead of the hearing in the case.
“The Respondents have filed evasive pleadings, to avoid a determination on the constitutionality of the relevant orders, while emphasizing situations of the past rather than the present.”
The Centre, in its affidavit before the Supreme Court, justified the shutdown in the region by citing the example of the three-month-long internet shutdown in Kashmir valley in the year 2016 following the killing of the Hizbul terrorist Burhan Wani. The main justifications for the shutdown were national security and the law and order situation in the region, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had submitted before the Court.
Bhasin counters this submission of the Centre by citing the official position taken by the Government of India as regards militancy and terrorism in Kashmir. The Union of India has maintained that terrorism and militancy in the valley have reduced significantly and in light of this, there is no reason for “sweeping and generalized apprehensions about disturbance of peace and order, or the dissemination of iniquitous rumours and fake propaganda”, the affidavit states.
Further, despite the shutdown on communication, internet and other services, the Kashmir Times staff has attempted to publish a truncated version of the newspaper from Srinagar on October 11. However, owing to the conditions present at the time, only 500 copies could be published, the affidavit reads.
“…the ongoing communications communication restriction and shutdown of internet and mobile services amounts to an unconstitutional interference with the freedom of the press. The debilitating impact of the communication shutdown is such that newspaper publishing will soon become unsustainable as a business or profession.”
The Centre had earlier submitted that the restrictions in the Kashmir region will gradually be lifted in a phased manner. As of October 14, postpaid mobile services for all mobile networks in Kashmir reportedly stood restored. However, the internet shutdown has still not been lifted.
A number of petitions related to Jammu & Kashmir, including Bhasin’s, are scheduled to be taken up for hearing on October 16.
[Read the Affidavit]