The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to produce the orders passed by authorities on restrictions in Jammu & Kashmir as well as Section 144 proceedings.
The direction from a three-judge Bench led by Justice N.V. Ramana came in response to Mr. Mehta’s claim of privilege over these documents.
“My Lords, we maintain our stand. Those orders cannot be made public. However, we will give it for the perusal and consideration of My Lords,” Mr. Mehta addressed the Bench, also comprising Justices R. Subhash Reddy and B.R. Gavai.
“Okay. You furnish the order for our consideration but if you do not want to make the orders public then you have to state on the affidavit as to why they cannot be given to the petitioners. You must indicate the reasons for claiming such privilege,” Justice Ramana said, addressing the law officer.
Mr. Mehta said there had been a relaxation in some of the restrictions imposed, including in mobile connectivity and landline services.
He sought a week’s time to file an additional affidavit to apprise the court of these factors.
The court scheduled the case for further hearing on October 25.
The restrictions were imposed after the abrogation on August 5 of Article 370 which granted special status to the State.
During the hearing, Justice Ramana told the SG, “Mr. Mehta, please keep all the orders in court.”
Mr. Mehta dealt with defiant queries raised in the court on the government’s perceived hesitation to produce on record the actual orders imposing restrictions on public movement and liberties.
“Nobody can sit in appeal over our administrative decision taken in the national interest after considering the ground situation, least of all the petitioners here,” Mr. Mehta asserted.
Not justified: counsel
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, for one of the parties, retorted, saying: “We are not sitting in appeal here as the Solicitor says, but we are certainly entitled to show that the government has so far not placed sufficient material to justify their action [restrictions]… They have been seeking an adjournment for the past seven weeks. They have not produced any record of the orders… The government should not be given any further time.”
Justice Gavai turned to Mr. Mehta and said the court could very well look into any administrative decisions passed by the government. “If we want to look into it, we will look into it,” he told the SG.
Justice Reddy also observed, “We certainly can examine it.”
Mr. Dave said, “We are fighting with our hands tied behind our backs… The court should not give them [government] any further time.”
Mr. Mehta said the petitioners, including Kashmir journalist Anuradha Bhasin, had unnecessarily “expanded” the scope of their petition from seeking freedom of movement of journalists to the legality of the restrictions itself.
To this, advocate Vrinda Grover, for Ms. Bhasin, said, “We have not expanded the petitions. We have been asking the government to place the orders on record from the very first instance.”