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Press Council Stand on Media Curbs in Kashmir ‘Unfortunate’: Justice P.B. Sawant

Speaking to The Wire, Justice Sawant also said the government’s decision to dilute and read down Article 370 was illegal.

Pune: The Press Council of India’s (PCI) intervention petition at the Supreme Court seeking to justify the government’s restrictions on communications and the media in Jammu and Kashmir is “unprecedented and unfortunate,” says Justice P.B. Sawant, a former chair of the council. 

He said the role of the council is to safeguard freedom of speech and expression of the media. 

The PCI filed a petition offering to “assist” the Supreme Court in deciding on the writ petition filed by Anuradha Bhasin, executive editor of Kashmir Times. Bhasin wants the court to rule that the restrictions are a violation of fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution, but the PCI says the government has acted to defend the “security” and “integrity” of the country. 

Bhasin’s petition demands that the government be directed to remove all curbs on communication and allow free movement of journalists and people in media. But the PCI says media freedom must be balanced by “national interest”.

Also Read: Journalists Call Press Council’s Support to Kashmir Media Restrictions ‘Deplorable’

In an interview to The Wire, Justice Sawant, who has also served as a judge in the Supreme Court, said, “I heard members of the PCI have opposed this decision and that the chairman, in his own capacity, has approached the SC. But in any case, whether he alone approached the SC or acted as PCI chairman, this justification of the [restrictions] on the media is unfortunate.”

Justice Sawant also said the government’s decision to dilute and read down Article 370 was illegal. The “government of India needs to take the consent of the constituent assembly of Jammu and Kashmir prior to taking any decision on Article 370. Without the state assembly’s consent, [scrapping] Article 370 is illegal. The article remains intact.”

He added: “This single move has united all Kashmiris against India. What Pakistan and the terrorists could not achieve in the past 70 years, the government has offered them on a plate. This is the triumph of Pakistan and the defeat of India.”

“This is a misadventure and we may have to retrace it. But the damage that is already done, of Kashmiris losing confidence, is difficult to regain,” he said.

He criticised the curbs on media activities in the state, saying they are unjustifiable. “You are suppressing the voice of Kashmir that is heading to tragedy. And it will only aggravate. Even opposition parties are not allowed to visit the state as the government knows the step it has taken is illegal.”

He said this was a sign that law and order in the state has collapsed.

The chairman of the Press Council of India, Justice Chandramauli Kumar Prasad. Photo: PTI

Question’s BJP’s claims

Justice Sawant also questioned the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) claims that the government’s action had been taken to promote development in the state. “This statement is ludicrous, as development could have been done without scrapping Article 370. Development cannot be done without the participation of the people. Now, nobody will be part of development. The argument of development is not tenable.”

He again warned, “I fear – and all Indians should fear – that this suppression of the people with force will push [them] towards extremism. Though currently, it looks all calm, it’s the calm before the storm.”

Also Read: Hotel With a View Turns Prison in Besieged Kashmir

He said that it is still not too late to take political steps to restore the confidence of the Kashmiris in the interest of the country. 

Justice Sawant served as a judge of the Supreme Court from 1989 to 1995. He was one of the members of the Indian People’s Tribunal set up in 2002 to investigate the Gujarat violence. 

The report of the P.B. Sawant Commission, which he headed, to investigate corruption charges against four Maharashtra ministers in 2003 led to the eventual resignation of two ministers.