Access to the Internet is a fundamental right under Article 19 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court said in a significant ruling on Friday and asked the Jammu and Kashmir administration to review within a week all orders imposing curbs in the Union Territory.
A 3-judge bench, headed by Justice N V Ramana, also said that Section 144 CrPC (prohibitory orders) cannot be used indefinitely to suppress freedom of speech and expression and difference of opinion.
The bench, which also comprised justices B R Gavai and R Subhash Reddy, asked the J-K administration to restore Internet services in institutions providing essential services like hospitals and educational places.
The bench further said that freedom of press is a valuable and sacred right.
On the prohibitory orders, it said that magistrates, while passing them, should apply their mind and follow doctrine of proportionality.
The verdict came on a batch of pleas which challenged the curbs imposed in Jammu and Kashmir after the Centre’s abrogation of provisions of Article 370 on August 5 last year.
These pleas were different from another set of petitions which have challenged the constitutional validity of abrogation of Article 370, being heard by a sperate 5-judge Constitution bench which will resume its hearing on January 21.
The 3-judge bench had reserved the judgement on removal of curbs on November 27 last year.
On November 21, the Centre had justified restrictions imposed in Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of provisions of Article 370 and said that due to the preventive steps taken, neither a single life was lost nor a single bullet fired.
Besides Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, the apex court had heard the petitions filed by Anuradha Bhasin, Executive Editor of Kashmir Times, and few intervenors questioning the restrictions in the Kashmir Valley.
The Centre had referred to terror violence in the Valley and said that for the past so many years terrorists were being pushed through from across the border, local militants and separatist organisation had held the civilians captive in the region and it would have been “foolish” if the government would not have taken preventive steps to secure the lives of citizens.
Provisions of Article 370, which gave special status to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, were abrogated by the Centre on August 5 last year.