SC to govt: Restore normal life to J&K under lockdown

The Asian Age.  | Parmod Kumar

India, All India

The court was told only private transport was available as public transport was not operating.

Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi (Photo: PTI).

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday directed the J&K government to take all the steps to ensure that normal life was restored in the state, which continues under a lockdown, and to ensure that people have access to healthcare, educational institutions, communications and public transport.

Issuing the direction for restoring normality in J&K, that has been under lockdown for the past 43 days, ever since August 5, a bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S.A. Bobde and S. Abdul Nazeer, however, said this should keep in view the “national interest and internal security”.

The court also sought the J&K government’s response on a habeas corpus petition on the status of former CM Farooq Abdullah’s detention since August 5.

The Chief Justice also described as “very serious” a submission by senior counsel Huzefa Ahmadi that people were finding it very difficult to approach the J&K high court, and he sought a report from the chief justice of the high court.

“If you are saying so, we are bound to take serious note of it. Tell us why it is very difficult for people to approach the high court. Is anybody stopping people from going to the high court. It is very, very serious,” CJI Gogoi said. He added that if need be, he would himself go to the high court.

However, CJI Gogoi told Ms Ahmadi, who appeared for child rights activist Enakshi Ganguly, that if the allegations turned out to be incorrect, she should be ready to face the consequences.

The Supreme Court said in its order on Monday: “The State of Jammu & Kashmir, keeping in mind the national interest and internal security, shall make all endeavour to ensure that normal life is restored in Kashmir; people have access to healthcare facilities and schools, colleges and educational institutions and public transport functions and operates normally”.

The court added: “All forms of communications, subject to the overriding consideration of national security, shall be normalised, if required on a selective basis, particularly for healthcare facilities.”

As the bench headed by CJI Gogoi passed the order, solicitor-general Tushar Mehta urged the bench that it should not pass any such order as it may be used across the border. Directing the next hearing of the case on September 30, the court told the Centre and J&K to file their respective affidavits, that would also indicate their responses to all applications filed before the court.

The order came as a number of lawyers appearing for different petitioners told the court of the difficulties people were facing over communications, healthcare and public transport. The court was told only private transport was available as public transport was not operating.

Senior counsel Meenkashi Arora, appearing for one of the petitioners, highlighted the issue of healthcare. She told the court that due to the communications blockade, expectant mothers were unable to access healthcare facilities in critical moments, and pointed to stillbirths. This submission was contested by the solicitor-general, who reeled out figures to show lakhs of patients were being attended to by hospitals in the Kashmir Valley alone, and surgeries of major and minor nature were being performed on a daily basis.

The solicitor-general also asserted that the courts were functioning in the Valley and even Lok Adalats were being held.

Appearing for Anuradha Bhasin, managing editor of Kashmir Times, senior counsel Vrinda Grover said they wanted to know under what law, circular or direction had the communications lines, including the Internet, been crippled. She said it was done under orders that are not in the public domain.

At this, Justice Bobde said that if the complaint being made by the newspaper was local in nature, then they should approach the high court, as it would be easier for the high court to decide.

In the course of arguments, as senior advocate Sanjay Hegde said, “All I am asking for is an uneventful,  peaceful life in Kashmir”, CJI Gogoi responded: “Why only in Kashmir? You think that is only for Kashmirs. That is true for everyone, including people here in the Supreme Court.”