The shutdown of internet, mobile and landline services in Jammu and Kashmir following the abrogation of provisions of Article 370 were “illegal and unconstitutional”, the Supreme Court was told on Tuesday (November 6).
A bench headed by Justice NV Ramana was told that even after 90 days, communication services – data, internet, pre-paid mobiles and SMS – are not operational in the Kashmir Valley, affecting the working of the media.
Advocate Vrinda Grover, appearing for Executive Editor of Kashmir Times Anuradha Bhasin who has challenged the restrictions imposed in the Valley, said the state has the power to put reasonable restrictions on the rights conferred under Article 19 (protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech) but it cannot extinguish the right itself.
“There is absolute communication shutdown from August 4. It requires to be tested by this court. Yes, there can be reasonable restrictions on rights under Article 19 but the same cannot extinguish the right itself,” she told the bench, also comprising Justices R Subhash Reddy and B R Gavai.
Grover argued that orders issued by the authorities were with regard to reduction of speed of 3G and 4G data but the internet service was totally shut down.
“This order is illegal and unconstitutional,” she said while referring to one of the orders issued by the Inspector General of Police (IGP) of Kashmir zone.
“There is complete non-application of mind while issuing these orders,” she said.
Pointing to the the Jammu and Kashmir administration’s affidavit that said that certain measures were taken for national security and to prevent loss of lives, Grover said authorities have claimed that internet services could be misused by “anti national elements” but their own data shows that incidents of terrorist violence have gone down.
“Is there any proximate nexus between internet and terrorist violence?,” she asked, adding that, “90 days are over now. The word ‘temporary’ will lose its meaning if the restrictions still continue”.
Referring to the provisions of the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017 and Indian Telegraph Act, she said that restrictions could be imposed only for temporary period and it cannot be enforced for longer time.
She said the media has got protection under the Constitution and freedom of press can be curbed only through a reasoned and specific order.
“So, according to you, general order of prohibition does not apply in your case unless special orders with reasons are passed?,” the bench asked.
Responding to the query, the lawyer while referring to the rules said, “Yes. There has to be order with specific reasons with regard to press”.
Grover also questioned if the authorities had apprehension about the misuse of internet services, then why were the landline phone services shut down.
“But wifi uses landline. At our residence, we use landline for wifi,” the bench said
To this, the counsel said landline phones do not require data services at all.
“Even today, people in Kashmir cannot use data on their mobile phones,” she said during the arguments which would continue on Wednesday.
The top court had on October 24 asked the Jammu and Kashmir administration as to how long they intend to continue the restrictions, including internet blockade, imposed in the valley.
It had said authorities may impose restrictions in national interest but that they need be reviewed from time to time.
Bhasin had earlier told the bench that the Centre and J&K administration had suppressed from the top court the orders and notifications on the basis of which physical and communication restrictions were imposed in the valley.
However, the J&K administration had said those orders and notifications would be placed before the top court but those cannot be shared with the petitioners.
(With input from agencies.)