SRINAGAR: The Supreme Court on Friday directed the Jammu and Kashmir administration to publish the review orders of the special committee under the Union Home Secretary on restoration of internet services in the Union Territory, saying the review cannot be an empty formality.

A three-judge bench of Justices B R Gavai, J B Pardiwala and Sandeep Mehta, however, said the deliberations of the committee will not be made public.

“Taking into consideration that even a review order would result in affecting the rights of the parties… We express our prima facie opinion, though it may not be necessary to publish review deliberations, orders passed in the review need to be published,” the bench said.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the J-K administration, said though review order is an internal mechanism, there is no impediment to publishing the same.
The court had in May 2020 asked the Centre to set up a special committee to assess the necessity of restrictions on the Internet in J-K.

Advocate Shadan Farasat, appearing for the petitioner, Foundation for Media Professionals, submitted all states where restrictions were imposed on the Internet at one time or another have published the review orders but it is beyond comprehension why only Jammu and Kashmir was not doing it.

“I am surprised that Jammu and Kashmir is resisting. All other states including Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Meghalaya….including border states…have published it. There is no tenable order,” he said.

Farasat submitted these orders have been mandated by law and the failure to do so was against the spirit of the order of the top court in Anuradha Bhasin case as well as the Telecom Suspension Rules.

The Union government began tightening restrictions on the Internet in J-K in 2019 following abrogation of Article 370. Journalist Anuradha Bhasin moved the Supreme Court in 2020 seeking review of the restrictions.

On May 11, 2020, the top court had ordered setting up a special committee headed by the Union home secretary to consider pleas for restoration of 4G internet services in Jammu and Kashmir, saying national security and human rights needed to be balanced in view of the fact the Union Territory has been “plagued with militancy”.

In 2020, the top court had said review orders are “not meant to be kept in the cupboard” and asked the administration to publish them.

The top court said it was desirable to have better internet services in J-K in view of the COVID-19 pandemic and a national lockdown.

On January 10, 2020, the top court had in its Anuradha Bhasin versus Union of India verdict held that freedom of speech and conducting business on the Internet are protected under the Constitution. It had asked the Jammu and Kashmir administration to immediately review the curb orders.

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