The Supreme Court’s response to petitions seeking directions to the government to restore normalcy, including freedom of expression, in Jammu & Kashmir, is disappointing. Several petitions have been filed in the court challenging the restrictions imposed in the state as part of the clampdown in the wake of the scrapping of Article 370 on August 5. The court also saw habeas corpus petitions for production of detained leaders and pleas for permission to visit detained persons. The common thread running through all of them is that the basic constitutional and human rights of citizens, including the right to life, have been denied in the state. Even after 45 days, the situation in the state remains much the same, despite claims of relaxation of some restrictions by the government. There is no indication of any improvement in the situation in the near future, and that is why the petitioners have gone to the court.
The court seems to have accepted the government’s arguments and statements without questioning and even concurred with some of its very untenable claims. One of the judges, Justice SA Bobde, said there are “formidable reasons’’ for the lockdown, when the court was told of the casualty figures in the state over the last 30 years. The court has only told the government to “make all endeavours to ensure that normal life is restored in Kashmir keeping in mind national and internal security.’’ This is a prescription which will have no effect because the government is not going to accept any improvement in the security situation any time soon. It has, in fact, made false and contradictory claims. It has said on various occasions that the majority of the people in the state are supportive of the scrapping of Article 370. Then why is it continuing with the lockdown? It has also said that not a life has been lost and not a bullet has been fired. But then, the people are not free to protest and even to move around. The government claimed in the court that newspapers in Kashmir were coming out as usual. This, too, is wrong. All media activity, including the functioning of newspapers, remains severely curtailed as there are restrictions on communication facilities and free and independent reporting.
The court is the custodian of the people’s constitutional rights and has always protected and even expanded these rights in the past. But its handling of issues relating to Kashmir has raised many questions. It has sometimes postponed consideration of cases and at other times given inadequate responses. It should not abdicate its constitutional role as the guardian of freedoms and the ultimate authority to check the excesses of the executive.