The Supreme Court ordered New Delhi to restore essential internet services in India-administered Kashmir and to review of restrictions within seven days.

Security personnel stand guard on a street as residents walk by after a grenade blast in Srinagar. January 4, 2020.
Security personnel stand guard on a street as residents walk by after a grenade blast in Srinagar. January 4, 2020. (AFP)

India’s Supreme Court on Friday ordered a review of all restrictions in India-administered Kashmir, including a five-month-long internet shutdown.

The restrictions were imposed on August 4, a day before India scrapped the partial autonomy guaranteed to the Muslim-majority region.

The apex court described the restrictions as unconstitutional and held that right to the internet is a fundamental one, interpreting Article 19 (1) of the Indian Constitution which guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression.

The judgment was delivered by a bench of Justices NV Ramana, R Subhash Reddy, and BR Gavai after they concluded hearing various petitions challenging the internet ban.

The bench also said that a complete curb on the internet should be imposed only as an extraordinary measure. The judgment said the repeated orders to suspend the internet amounted to an abuse of power.

English language newspaper Kashmir Times editor Anuradha Bhasin had first approached the court against communication blockade and Internet shutdown. 

Upper House Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad also filed a similar petition questioning the restrictions.

Trade bodies in Kashmir have estimated businesses lost $1.39 billion in the first 100 days as a result of internet shutdowns.

According to Top10VPN, a publication focused on internet privacy, India was one of the top countries shutting down access. India's internet blackout was 4,196 hours long in total in 2019.

While reading the verdict, Justice Ramana said the court would not delve into the political intent of the orders imposing restrictions in Kashmir. He also said that liberty and security are always at loggerheads.

“It is the court's job to ensure citizens are provided all rights and security,” he said.

The government in its reply had justified the curbs as preventive measures taken to ensure that law and order were maintained after scrapping the special status of the state.

On August 5 last year, the Indian government scrapped Article 370 which allowed Jammu and Kashmir to enact some of its own laws. Article 370 also protected the Muslim-majority state's citizenship law, which barred outsiders from owning land in the territory.

Curfew-like conditions were imposed in the region and pro-India leaders detained in a bit to suppress protests. 

The entire political leadership in the region is already either in Indian prisons or under house arrest.

Source: AA