Curbs in J&K: Should govt have waited for riots to begin, SC asks Azad

Ananthakrishnan G
Ghulam Nabi Azad

The Supreme Court on Thursday asked Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad if the government should have waited for riots to take place before imposing restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir in view of its decision to scrap the special status on August 5. The three-judge bench comprised Justices N V Ramana, R Subhash Reddy and B R Gavai.

Justice Gavai asked Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, who was representing Azad, if the state could not take preventive action, for instance in situations where there is apprehension of breach of communal peace. “Then they should have the material,” replied Sibal. “Should they have waited for the riots to take place?” asked Justice Gavai. “Why assume there will be riots?” answered Sibal, adding, “that shows it’s on the mind”.

“So what kind of material do you expect in situations like this?” asked Justice Reddy. Sibal replied that it can be material in the form of intelligence inputs. “Government cannot act in anticipation of a possibility,” he said, adding, “There was nothing on August 4...only (apprehension) in the mind of the government”.

Arguing before the court, Sibal had taken the stand that patients were unable to access hospitals in Jammu and Kashmir in the wake of the curbs following August 5.

On Thursday, he faced questions from the bench over a news article submitted with Azad’s petition which said that 8,308 outpatients had visited the Super Speciality Section of Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital in Srinagar and 7,073 had visited the Khyber Hospital in August.

Sibal had cited the article by Indiaspend.com to illustrate how patients were suffering after August 5. The article showed a dip in outpatient visits compared to July.

“There is no movement, no transport,” said Sibal, stating that even farmers were unable to sell their produce due to non-availability of transport.

After going through the article, Justice Reddy asked Sibal, “So by your own admission, 8,308 patients visited?”

Justice Reddy then referred to the figures for the previous months and said the number for June was less than July, which being a rainy month may have led to more people falling sick. The bench added that “everything can’t be linked to this (situation following Article 370 amendment)”.

Justice Reddy said that “there can’t be any doubt that in a situation like this, there will be difficulties”.

Sibal responded that the state had a duty to protect people’s interests. “If you take such a drastic action that affects seven million people, you need to prepare for it. You need to protect their fundamental rights too,” Sibal contended.

Azad moved the apex court after he was stopped at Srinagar airport while attempting to visit the state the first time after August 5.

“Stopping me at the airport is unreasonable restriction, not allowing patients to visit hospitals is unreasonable restriction...,” Sibal told the bench, adding, “they have failed to take steps to facilitate my rights”.