Vrinda Grover.

Vrinda Grover.  

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A Bench headed by Justice N.V. Ramana was told that even after 90 days, communication services were not operational in the Kashmir Valley, affecting the working of the media.

An August 4 directive from the IGP of Kashmir Zone in Srinagar to shut down landlines to prevent the “misuse of data services” drew attention in the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Senior lawyer Vrinda Grover, for Kashmir Times editor Anuradha Bhasin, asked a three-judge Bench led by Justice N.V. Ramana why landlines were shut down to stop Internet data services in the Valley. She asked why landlines were not kept open so people could call each other in times of need.

“Can restrictions on free speech be used to extinguish the very right of free speech?” Ms. Grover asked in court.

The communication from S.P. Pani, IGP, Kashmir Zone, on August 4 to the BSNL authorities said: “In view of the apprehension of misuse of data services by anti-national elements, which is likely to cause deterioration in the law and order situation, you are directed to shut down the landline services in the entire Kashmir Valley except airport (old/new) with immediate effect till further orders”.

Though the actual text of the IGP’s order refers to the shutting down of only landlines to stop data services, the subsequent affidavit filed by the J&K government in the Supreme Court on October 23 claims the IGP had banned not only landlines but also Internet and mobiles. The affidavit said a similar order was passed by the Jammu IGP too. It said the snapping of communication services was confirmed by the Principal Secretary of the J&K Home Department in terms of the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Service (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules of 2017.

The August 4 communication was one of the bunch of documents the J&K government had produced in the apex court to prove the communication lock-down was duly authorised.

Besides this, Ms. Grover said police authorities had ordered a reduction of data speed from 4G to 2G in the Valley. However, the Internet was shut down completely all these days.

The Justice Ramana bench is hearing a batch of petitions challenging the restrictions imposed on movement and communication in J&K. It has been 90 days since restrictions were imposed in J&K following the withdrawal of the special status and the reorganisation of the State of J&K into two new Union Territories — J&K and Ladakh.

The J&K government said the right to free speech is not absolute. The State can impose reasonable restrictions to protect sovereignty and integrity.

The affidavit argued that restrictions could also include total prohibition. Anyway, the affidavit said telephone and mobile services have been restored and there is no restriction on movement in “99% of Jammu and Kashmir”.

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