As expected, the Supreme Court last Friday took a balanced view on the petition challenging the suspension of internet in Jammu and Kashmir following the August 5 changes in its status of conversion into two separate Union Territories.
While maintaining that the fundamental right to free speech and expression through the medium of internet, too, is a constitutional right under Article 19 (1) (a) as is the right to trade, business or occupation (Article (1) (g).
However, the court did not order the immediate restoration of internet except in hospitals or for emergency banking and other services. Stringent restrictions imposed in the wake of the controversial division of the State and the emasculation of Article 370 remain in some parts of the Valley.
However, the court did direct the Government to review the situation on a weekly basis and to publicise the suspension orders and the reasons thereof.
Also, the authorities should desist imposing prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the CPC mechanically for indefinite periods, these cannot be used to quell dissent or expression of grievance, the court said.
These orders henceforth be issued on a weekly basis along with grounds for the same so that people can seek judicial redressal against an arbitrary use of power.
The court suggested that the authorities review the current situation and withdraw the prohibitory orders where warranted. Concerns of law and order and security though important should not be exploited arbitrarily to deny people their freedom of movement and association. After the court order, both sides claimed vindication, though neither had reason to gloat.
The petition was filed by Ghulam Nabi Azad, the Congress leader in the Rajya Sabha, and the publisher of a Kashmir-based newspaper. The Government ought to have heaved a sigh of relief after the court order, but it is time it reviewed its strategy in the Valley which has been under severe restrictions of one or the other kind since last August 5.
Admittedly, there has been a gradual relaxation in Kashmir, but the blanket cover of fear still hovers over it. Normalcy in bazaars and residential areas is yet to return fully.
According to an estimate, in the 150-day shutdown the Kashmir economy has suffered a business loss of over Rs 17,000 crores. It is however a good sign that the authorities have felt confident to allow a group of Delhi-based diplomats for a two-day visit to Kashmir and Jammu.
This should pave the way for eventual removal of restrictions on the free movement of the national and foreign media besides other ordinary citizens. Success of the August 5 decisions will lie in the complete restoration of normalcy in the two new Union Territories.
The Government earned a breather from the apex court last week. It must use it optimise normalcy in the Valley as early as warranted by the security imperatives.