Fifty-six days into a lockdown on Kashmir, the Centre on Tuesday told Supreme Court that normalcy was returning to the Valley, and there had been no lives lost due to police firing since the August 5 Presidential Order scrapping Jammu and Kashmir's special status.
"It is to the credit of the Government that... not a single bullet has been fired till date and there has been no loss of life due to police firing," said the Commissioner/ Secretary of the J&K government in an affidavit before three-judge bench headed by Justices NV Ramana, R Subash Reddy and BR Gavai. The affidavit was submitted before the top court, which was hearing a petition filed by editor of Kashmir Times, Anuradha Bhasin.
Bhasin's writ challenging the media blackout in Kashmir since August 5 was taken up by the top court alongside a supporting intervention application filed by Foundation of Media Professionals.
Representing Bhasin, advocate Vrinda Grover asked, "Under what notification was the Kashmir communication blackout done?"
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta countered that the rationale was clear in the affidavit filed by Centre, and reply would apply to petitions filed by Bhasin and FMP.
Senior Counsel Meenakshi Arora submitted that the challenge to the blackout raised macro issues of fundamental rights. "It has been 56 days. Can fundamental rights be brushed under the carpet?", Arora asked.
In retort, the SG said, "Normalcy is being restored... No restrictions have been thrust on Kashmiri people and "100% landlines are working." After the court directed the SG to file the J&K government's affidavit, the matter was fixed for October 16.
While stating that normalcy was being gradually restored in the Valley, the affidavit went on to add that "certain groups of people have constantly engaged in attempts to destroy public order and tranquility" in view of which it had been deemed appropriate to impose "certain restrictions on any kind of public gatherings."
The Centre further said that there was no restrictions on media reporting in the Valley. "Regular press briefings and press releases are being organised to disseminate information," it said.
During the hearing, senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, interjected to add that normalcy could not be equated with "mere existence." Pointing to earlier court orders, he said the government was to restore all forms of communication. This "does not mean just landlines alone, but internet too," Hegde added.
The submission was met with an immediate reply from Justice BR Gavai: "Personal liberty will have to be balanced against the requirements of national security."
SG Mehta too told court that if internet and mobiles were restored in Kashmir, India would be "flooded with fake news from across the border."\
Click here to download the Affidavit