Shops remained closed in Srinagar. (Express File Photo: Shuaib Masoodi)
In its first judgment since the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, the Supreme Court Friday directed the Jammu and Kashmir administration to place in the public domain all its orders on restrictions in the Union Territory within seven days so that those affected could challenge it, if necessary. The apex court said every existing restriction — on Section 144 and the Internet — should be supported by sufficient material and be amenable to judicial review, as it could have serious implications on the fundamental rights of affected parties.
Justices N V Ramana, who authored the judgment on behalf of the three-judge bench, said power should be used responsibly, and only as a measure to preserve law and order. "Section 144 cannot be used to curb liberty; it can be used only where there is a likelihood of incitement of violence and danger to public safety," it said.
The Centre had justified the restrictions citing national security and said that these were temporary measures in view of the prevailing situation in the region which was facing the brunt of cross-border terror.
The bench, which also comprised Justices R Subhash Reddy and B R Gavai, ordered the administration to restore internet in essential services, including hospitals, banks and government websites.
Further, the court called for a review on the Internet shutdown in J&K — the longest-ever continuous shutdown in the country. Stating that an indefinite suspension was "impermissible", it said the Internet should be blocked only in unavoidable situations, and after authorities have explored alternative means.
"(We) need to distinguish between Internet as a tool and freedom of expression through Internet," the bench said. "Expression through internet has gained contemporary relevance and is part of freedom of expression under Article 19. Therefore, any restrictions must subscribe to conditions laid down in Article 19."
It also noted, "Expression through Internet has gained contemporary relevance and is one of the major means of information diffusion. Therefore, freedom of speech and express through the Internet is an integral part of Article 19(1)(a) and any restriction on it must be in compliance with Article 19(2) of the Constitution."
The Court said that while the government is entitled to restrict freedom of speech and expression, if the need be so, it ought to in compliance with the requirements under Article 19(2). "It is in this context, while the nation is facing such adversity, an abrasive statement with imminent threat may be restricted, if the same impinges upon sovereignty and integrity of India," it said.
The SC will take up the matter again on January 21.
(With inputs from ENS)