NEW DELHI: Giving a slew of directions to bring normalcy to Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370, the Supreme Court on Monday asked the Centre to restore communications in the Valley while keeping in mind national security.
A bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi passed the order on a batch of petitions filed by Kashmir Times Editor Anuradha Bhasin and Tehseen Poonawalla challenging the shutdown in the J&K.
The court asked the Centre to make efforts so that normal functioning of schools and hospitals can be resumed.
The bench questioned the Attorney General as to why communications are still shut down in the Kashmir Valley.
The AG responded by saying that all newspapers are getting published and the government has been offering all kinds of assistance to journalists in the state.
"It is not about just one or two newspapers. They are saying that there is general communication shutdown. We would like to know whether it is a breakdown or shutdown and for what reasons," the bench observed.
The apex court also asked Venugopal to file an affidavit indicating steps taken so far in the matter.
When the top court was told about the alleged 'shutdown' of mobile and Internet services in Kashmir Valley, the bench said these issues could be dealt with by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court.
"Is it the same situation today? We are saying that if it is some local issue then it would be better if the high court dealt with it. It is simpler for the high court to know what is happening in the state in terms of the shutdown of mobile and Internet services," the bench said.
Venugopal told the bench that a media centre has been set up in Srinagar where Internet and phone facilities are being provided for scribes from 8 AM to 11 PM and movement passes and vehicles are also being provided to journalists to enable them to do their work.
"You put in these things in an affidavit," the bench told Venugopal, adding, "In the meantime, we trust you (government) that you will try to restore the services and normalcy".
Venugopal said that 5,292 security force personnel have lost their lives in such incidents.
When some other petitioners raised the issue of alleged lack of medical facilities in Kashmir, Venugopal said around 10.52 lakh patients were attended to in hospitals in Out Patients Department (OPD) in the valley from August 5 to September 15.
Mehta said that in the Kashmir division, restrictions have been lifted in 93 out of a total of 105 police stations.
He also added that restrictions have been lifted 100 per cent in Jammu and Ladakh divisions.
The court has also asked the Centre to put details of the restoration steps on an affidavit, adding that endeavours should be made to restore normalcy.
The Centre also opposed Bhasin’s plea that no untoward incident has taken place in the Valley since the 1990s,
The AG told the bench, “Over 40,000 lives were lost in J&K since 1990. Separatists even received funding from the Pakistan High Commission.”
He further added that there was a three-pronged attack on the J&K administration before August 5.
Mehta said there was no scarcity of medicines in the state and a three month stock of essential commodities is already there.
"The picture presented before the court is wrong," he said.
After the bench said that both the Centre and state should ensure restoration of normalcy, Mehta said, "This direction can be misused elsewhere, not inside the country but outside."
To this, the bench said, "We are not issuing any direction. We have said that restoration will be on a selective basis keeping in mind the national interest".
“By separatists funding stone pelters, by terrorists from across the border and by businessman Zahoor Watali who was funding local militants,” the AG said adding that not a single bullet has been fired in Jammu and Kashmir since restrictions were imposed in the state.
While Bhasin has sought the removal of restrictions imposed on working of journalists in the state after scrapping of provisions of Article 370, some other petitioners have raised the issue of the shutdown of public transport and lack of medical facilities in Kashmir.
In a related development, the court also allowed former J&K CM and six-time MP Ghulam Nabi Azad to visit Srinagar, Anantnag, Baramulla and Jammu to inquire about the plight of daily wagers who depend on tourism and fruit production. Azad says he would not indulge in any political activity or hold rallies in the state.
The bench has sought a report from the Chief Justice of Jammu & Kashmir High Court on whether the High Court is accessible for litigants. The order has come to be passed on a plea filed by child rights activist Enakshi Ganguly alleging difficulty in accessing the High Court.
The bench also issued notice to the Centre on a habeas corpus petition filed by MDMK Rajya Sabha MP Vaiko seeking production of former Chief Minister of J&K Farooq Abdullah who is allegedly under detention.
The court will hear the matter again on September 30.
Will myself visit Srinagar: CJI
The apex court also sought a report from the Jammu and Kashmir High Court chief justice on allegations that people were finding it difficult to approach the high court.
Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi said it is "very very serious" if people were unable to approach the high court.
"I will myself visit Srinagar," he said.
A lawyer representing two child rights activists alleged in court that people were finding it difficult to approach the high court.
The CJI warned the lawyer that if the report of the high court chief justice indicates contrary, then get ready for "consequences".
(With PTI Inputs)