The Supreme Court prescribed patience over positive judicial action for Jammu and Kashmir while hearing Anuradha Bhasin, executive editor of Kashmir Times, who is challenging the state of curfew and media restrictions imposed by the Centre across the Valley.
Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi said he read in the morning’s newspapers that landlines would be restored in the Valley by evening.
“We would like to give it a little time. I have read in the papers that landlines will be restored by evening…” Chief Justice Gogoi addressed Ms. Bhasin’s side on Friday.
Justice S.A. Bobde offered his telephonic conversation with the Jammu and Kashmir High Court Chief Justice as proof that the landlines were already working.
“There is no problem with the landlines,” Justice Bobde told senior lawyer Vrinda Grover, for Ms. Bhasin.
Ms. Grover said only the landlines of a few important persons may be working. The reality was different for ordinary people, she submitted.
Finally, the Bench chose to keep Ms. Bhasin’s petition pending. The CJI said a date would be fixed on the administrative side for the next date of hearing.
This is the second Bench of the Supreme Court that has decided to ‘wait and watch’ while the government handled the unfolding of events in Jammu and Kashmir.
The ongoing curfew was imposed in the Valley on August 4, preceding the issuance of a Presidential Order the next day, which blunted Article 370 and scrapped the special rights and privileges enjoyed by the people of Jammu and Kashmir since 1954. Subsequently, Parliament reorganised the State of Jammu and Kashmir into two new Union Territories — Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.
Recently, a Bench led by Justice Arun Mishra, on a similar petition filed by activist Tehseen Poonawalla, opted to wait a fortnight without passing any positive judicial orders. Mr. Poonawalla had claimed the clampdown threw a cloak of isolation over the Valley.
Ms. Bhasin contended the information blackout was “fuelling anxiety, panic, alarm, insecurity and fear among the residents of the Kashmir.”
Ms. Grover argued that there were severe curbs placed on the movement of photojournalists and reporters, which should be immediately relaxed in order to ensure the freedom of the press and media. Ms. Grover said restrictions were curbing the rights of journalists under the provisions of Articles 14 and 19 of the Constitution and the right to know the conditions of residents of Kashmir Valley.
“Press cards should be respected… Information should come out. Media is the fourth pillar of democracy,” Ms. Grover submitted.
Her petition said journalists should be allowed to “practise their profession and exercise their right to report freely on the situation prevailing in J&K after the clampdown on the entire State on August 4, 2019.”
Attorney General K.K. Venugopal said the state of affairs was constantly reviewed. The restrictions were being eased on a daily basis. He claimed that Kashmir Times was published from Jammu and asked what prevented the paper from not getting printed from Srinagar too.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta repeatedly asked the Bench to dismiss Ms. Bhasin’s petition. Mr. Mehta said the Supreme Court should not intervene and the decision should be left to the government, which will act in accordance with the ground situation.
Earlier on in the hearing, the CJI expressed the court’s indignation on the fact that out of a total six petitions filed on the J&K issue by various parties, most of them were found to be defective.
“People are filing defective petitions on such a serious issue like this?” the CJI exclaimed. The National Conference party had also filed a petition separately.
The Chief Justice slammed advocate-petitioner M.L. Sharma, who had his head covered with a white handkerchief and wore dark goggles, for his shoddy petition challenging the August 5 Presidential Order.
“I spent a half-hour trying to read your petition. I could not make sense of it. What are you trying to say in it? What are your prayers? What kind of petition is this? Such petitions will affect the maintainability of other petitions,” the CJI told Mr. Sharma, waving the petition at him.
Mr. Sharma said he was injured — the reason for his dark goggles and handkerchief — and this could have impaired the drafting of the petition. He was granted time to amend his petition.
“We wish you early recovery from your injury, but meanwhile do not injure your reputation,” the Chief Justice addressed Mr. Sharma.