SC notice to Centre, J&K Govt over highway closure

The Supreme Court on Monday asked the central as well as the Jammu and Kashmir government to respond to plea against the state government’s order restriting movement of civilian vehicles along the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway on Sunday and Wednesday every week.

A bench comprising Chief Justice RanjanGogoi, Justice Deepak Gupta and Justice Sanjiv Khanna issued the notice to Government of India and also to the J&K government after hearing the petitioners. 

Senior Vice President of the ‘Awami National Conference’ Muzzafar Ahmad Shah and social worker Yasmeen Sonaullah have approached the apex court against the state government’s order—353-Home (ISA) of 2019 dated 3-4-2019—that bars movement of civilian traffic on the National Highway from 4am to 5pm on Sundays and Wednesdays, until May 31.  The restrictions on Wednesdays have been lifted on the Srinagar-Baramulla road. “Issue notice on the writ petition, as also on the prayer for interim relief, returnable within two weeks,” the bench said.   

Advocates Suhail Malik, Vikas Malik, RonakBaid, J N Singh, Neeraj Srivastava and Advocate On Record (AOR), Pranaya Kumar Mohapatra appeared for the petitioners, who have pleaded that the “absurd decision to restrict civilian traffic movement on 270-km-long stretch on the national highway directly affects lives of lakhs of people while its indirect economic and social impact is interminable”.

The order under challenge (impugned order), they have pleaded, means “a virtual lockdown of the valley two days every week which will directly affect 10,000 vehicles plying every hour, which includes vehicles carrying patients, students, tourists, businessmen and government officials”.  “Such an extreme step was not even adopted during the Kargil War in 1999,” they have pleaded.

While the petitioners have argued that the “illogical and vindictive order would render offices, schools, colleges, banks, airports and railway stations shut two days a week”, they have submitted that the restrictions “will have a direct impact on the general election of 2019”.

The prohibition on civilian traffic on the National Highway will have a disastrous impact on the tourism industry of the state and it is a “collective punishment” for the people of Kashmir, the petitioners have pleaded.

“Respondent number 1 (J&K government) is perhaps trying to imply that the cause of insurgency and resultant loss of lives in Jammu and Kashmir is owed to the presence of inhabitants in the state and not to, inter-alia, intelligence failure, unfenced borders, weak foreign policy, animosity with neighbouring countries (sic), political divergence against meaningful dialogue with stakeholders, obsolete counter-insurgency strategy and equipment (sic),” the petition reads.

Notably, the J&K High Court has also issued notices to the Government of India and J&K government on a batch of petitions by former IAS officer-turned-politician Shah Faesal, National Conference leader Ali Muhammad Sager, Peoples Democratic Party leader Naeem Akhter, Raja Faisal Zahoor, ShafaqatNazir and ArifJavid Khan, challenging the National Highway closure. The court has sought response to the PIL by April 24.