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In a significant ruling, the Supreme Court today held that the Right to Freedom of Expression (FoE) through the internet is part of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, and that the same restrictions under the constitutional. provision would apply.
This judgment was delivered by a Bench of Justices NV Ramana, R Subhash Reddy, and BR Gavai after reserving the same on November 27 last year.
Pronouncing the verdict, the Justice Ramana said at the outset that the Court would not delve into the political intent of the orders imposing restrictions in Kashmir. He said,
"Liberty and security are always at loggerheads. It is the Court's job to ensure that the citizens are provided all rights and security."
Disagreement does not justify destabilization, the Bench went on to observe. Further, a complete curb on the internet must be considered by the State only as an extraordinary measure.
"Power under Section 144 CrPC cannot be used as a curb on legitimate expression of democratic rights."
Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) is a remedial and preventive measure and must be subject to the test of proportionality. It can only be used if there is a likelihood of violence and danger to public safety, the Court held.
Moreover, it was held that indefinite suspension of services is inpermissible and that the suspension can only be temporary. Any such order must adhere to the principle of proportionality and would be subject to judicial review.
The Court went on to direct the government to publish future orders passed under Section 144 CrPC and orders suspending internet and telecom services.
It also directed for these orders to be reviewed by the concerned authority within seven days, and for future orders to be reviewed in a timely manner.
The three-Judge Bench heard a batch of petitions which had challenged the validity of givernment's move to impose restrictions on media, communications, transport, and to impose curfew in parts of Jammu & Kashmir immediately after the abrogation of Article 370.