Observing that freedom of internet is a fundamental right, the Supreme Court on Friday (January 10) asked the Jammu and Kashmir administration to review all restrictive orders in the valley within seven days.
A bench comprising Justice NV Ramana, Justice R Subhash Reddy and Justice BR Gavai also asked the administration restore internet services in all institutions providing essential services like hospitals and educational centres.
Hailing the apex court’s order, the Congress said it was a “big jolt” to the Modi government’s “illegal activities”.
Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said this is the first time the Supreme Court has talked about how the people of Jammu and Kashmir feel.
“I would also like to thank the SC for a very historic decision and the people from across the country were waiting for it, especially the people of J&K,” he said.
“The government of India has misled the entire country. This time the SC was forthright and they didn’t come under any pressure,” he added.
The court said all the restrictive orders should be made public so that they can be challenged legally.
The court gave the order while hearing a batch of petitions including those filed by Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad and Anuradha Bhasin, the executive editor of Kashmir Times, on the restrictions in the valley following the abrogation of Article 370 and its bifurcation into two Union territories.
The court said the mere expression of dissent against the government cannot be the reason for internet suspension and that there has to be a reasonable balance between liberty and security.
“Kashmir has seen a lot of violence. We will try our best to balance the human rights and freedoms with the issue of security.”
“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 Justice Ramana while reading out the judgement.
“This freedom can only be restricted after relevant factors are considered and only if there are no other options,” he added.
The court also criticised the use of Section 144, as a “tool to oppress difference of opinion” in the valley.
“We are only here to ensure that citizens are provided their rights. We will not delve into the political intent behind the orders given,” Justice Ramana said.
The bench had earlier reserved the verdict on November 27.
The Centre imposed restrictions on internet services in the valley since the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019. The central government, had justified the restrictions stating that they helped in avoiding loss of life in the valley.
In an affidavit submitted to the apex court in regard to the case on October 24, the Jammu and Kashmir administration said that fundamental rights under Article 19 of the Constitution are not absolute and can be regulated in the interest of the “sovereignty, integrity, security of state, general public and within Article 19(2) and (6)”.
The SC order comes a day after the arrival of envoys from 15 nations for a two-day trip to Jammu and Kashmir to assess the situation and steps taken by the Indian government to restore normalcy.