Kashmir will continue to be under lockdown, even on the dawn of the new year of 2020, unless the Central Government voluntarily decides to lift the restrictions imposed in the region on August 5.
The Supreme Court closed today for winter vacations, and will re-open only on January 6. On November 27, a three judges bench comprising Justices N V Ramana, R Subhash Reddy and B R Gavai had reserved judgment on a bunch of petitions challenging the constitutionality of Kashmir lockdown.
Even on the last working day of the year, the Court did not pronounce the judgment, which was reserved nearly three weeks ago.
Meanwhile, the internet shutdown in the region crossed 136 days, which as per the The Washnigton Post is the longest ever in a democracy.
The Court had heard the petitions filed by Anuradha Bhasin, Executive Editor of Kashmir Times, Congress Rajya Sabha MP Ghulam Nabi Azad and few intervenors questioning the curfew restrictions, communication blockade and internet shut down imposed in the region in the wake of the abrogation of state's special status.
The petitioners mainly argued that the restrictions on the liberties of citizens under Article 19 failed to satisfy the tests of reasonableness and proportionality as laid down by the Supreme Court in the Puttaswamy case on right to privacy.
Also, restrictions of such a wide scale for a period spanning over three months can be invoked only by declaring an emergency under Article 352 of the Constitution. Such restrictions cannot be imposed through orders of District Magistrates under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. A declaration of emergency under Article 352 will be subjected to periodic review of the Parliament, and that way possibilities of abuse could be checked, argued the petitioners.
The restrictions have virtually paralyzed the lives of 7 million people; their daily lives have been impacted. Education, medical care, business, agriculture, tourism etc, have taken a bad hit due to the lockdown of the state, submitted the petitioners.
Advocate Vrinda Grover (for Bhasin), Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal (for Azad), Senior Advocates Huzefa Ahmadi and Dushyant Dave (for intervenors) submitted arguments for petitioners.
The Central Government and J&K Administration, represented by the Attorney General and Solicitor General respectively, submitted that the restrictions were necessary in the interests of national security. It was submitted that internet ban is necessary to cut-off the co-ordination amongst militants. The restrictions have ensured that the "historic decision" of the Government to revoke the special status of the state was implemented without any bloodshed, the state argued.
The Central Government and the J&K Administration had not filed their reply affidavits in the matter until October, though the Bhasin's plea was filed on August 10, within 5 days of Centre's measures. The Government submitted its reply after several seeking several adjournments.
On October 29, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights criticized that the Supreme Court had been "slow" in dealing with the Kashmir petitions.
"The Supreme Court of India has been slow to deal with petitions concerning habeas corpus, freedom of movement and media restrictions", the UN body had commented.