Internet restrictions in J&K: Review orders not meant to be kept in cupboard, says SC

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday said review orders to consider pleas for the restoration of internet services in Jammu and Kashmir are “not meant to be kept in the cupboard” and asked the administration to publish them.

A bench of Justices B R Gavai and Sanjay Karol gave Additional Solicitor General KM Nataraj, appearing for the J-K administration, two weeks to seek instructions and apprise the court on the next date of hearing.

The bench was hearing an application filed by the Foundation for Media Professionals seeking the publication of the review orders passed by a special committee headed by the Union Home secretary on internet restrictions in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

“What are review orders meant for? Review orders are not meant to be kept in the cupboard,” the bench observed as Nataraj submitted that the petitioner is seeking publication of the committee’s deliberations.

The bench ordered, “We are of the prima facie view that it may not be necessary to publish the deliberations (of the committee), but the review orders passed are required to be published. Mr Nataraj seeks two weeks time to take instructions in this regard. List after two weeks.”

Advocate Shadan Farasat, appearing for the Foundation for Media Professionals, said at the outset that the administration is required to publish the review orders and the mother order on internet restrictions in the union territory according to the 2020 verdict in the Anuradha Bhasin versus Union of India and the Telegraph Act.

“Review orders are something to be passed under the Act and 2020 verdict and therefore they must be published. They are saying that the special committee orders do not have to be published. I am not contesting that, there may be national security reasons. But review order and mother order are something which must be published,” he said.

Nataraj submitted that these issues had arisen during the internet curbs that were there at the time (after the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019).

“We have complied with all the prayers made in earlier petitions. A contempt petition was also filed and was dismissed. Now, they have come up with a new prayer for publication of recommendations and deliberations of the special committee,” he said.

Justice Gavai told Nataraj, “Forget about the deliberations, you only publish review orders. They only want publication of the review orders.”

Nataraj submitted that there is already compliance of directions passed in the 2020 verdict and in the May 11, 2020 order in the plea of the Foundation for Media Professionals and others.

If that is the case, the bench said, it will record Nataraj’s statement that review orders have been published.

Nataraj said he would like to seek instructions and sought time to apprise the court after two weeks.

The bench recorded that Nataraj submits that the perusal of the verdicts and orders would show that deliberations of the special committee are not required to be published.

On May 11, 2020, the top court ordered the setting up of a “special committee” headed by the Union Home secretary to consider pleas for the restoration of 4G internet services in Jammu and Kashmir, saying national security and human rights needed to be balanced in view of the fact the Union Territory has been “plagued with militancy”.

The top court said it was desirable to have better internet services in the union territory in view of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and a national lockdown.

On January 10, 2020, the top court in its Anuradha Bhasin versus Union of India verdict held that freedom of speech and conducting business on the Internet are protected under the Constitution. It had asked the Jammu and Kashmir administration to immediately review curb orders.

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