Life normal in Jammu & Kashmir, UT tells apex court
New Delhi: The Jammu and Kashmiradministration has said that there was no undeclared Emergency in the Union Territory and there were no blanket orders that prevented people from gathering under Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code. The residents had ‘more rights’ than before and were leading a ‘completely normal life’. Representing the UT, solicitor-general Tushar Mehta, however, told a bench led comprising Justices NV Ramana, BR Gavai and Subhash Reddy that mobile internet and text messaging services were not restored yet but ‘every other service’ were restored.
Mehta’s arguments came in response to a slew of petitions which had challenged the blanket restrictions on travel, movement, free speech and communication lockdown in the UT. The fundamental duty of any government was to protect the life, limb and property of its citizens, Mehta said. “Fundamental rights of citizens have not been taken away,” he insisted. More rights have been conferred on the residents. The UT was a victim of crossborder terrorism and was under attack physical and digital attack, he said. “Some 71,038 people have been killed in the (erstwhile) state since 1990. This has been the situation since 1947. Let’s not pretend to be ostriches. This has not gone down well only with a miniscule minority. Local separatist sentiments were not allowing things to stabilise,” Mehta said.
Parliament had in its wisdom decided to do away with the special status. A lockdown was imposed to prevent any disturbances but “there was no Section 144 in seven districts. Now things are normal. Not a single shot has been fired. Not a single person has died,” he said. Mehta’s claims notwithstanding, official figures have said four civilians were killed by armed forces during protests since August 5. Two armed forces personnel, five locals and 12 non-locals were killed by militants too.
Mehta said 166 welfare laws were extended since the decision to turn the state into a UT. They include the Domestic Violence Act, Reservations for Scheduled Tribes, the Tribal Rights Act, the Forest Act, the Panchayati Raj Bodies Act and Prohibition of Child Marriage Act. Gender discriminatory local laws were overridden too, he said. Kashmiris were going about their ‘normal lives’, schools and hospitals were open and transport services had resumed. “Majority Kashimiris are peace-loving, only a miniscule minority is upset. They are not allowing things to stabilise. We have to tread cautiously,” the SG said.
He refused to address the nitty gritty of the order imposing Section 144 or restrictions, prompting the court to ask him to explain them later. The petitioners, who include an editor from J&K and politicians such as Ghulam Nazi Azad, have argued that the people of the UT had a right to know what decisions were taken and had the right to express their views. Blanket orders could be passed only in individual cases by magistrates. However, in case of the UT, there seemed to be a single direction to police officers to impose Section 144, the petitioners have contended. The SG said that the situation was unprecedented as Pakistan’s ISI was pushing interrorists and funding the Hurriyat to create disturbances. “The government deserves congratulations for the manner in which it handled the situation.” Now the UT will develop and more employment opportunities will be generated, he said. Arguments in the case will continue.