SRINAGAR: The J&K High Court on Saturday described the situation in Kashmir as “highly abnormal” and called for an immediate end to the use of pellet guns. A division bench of the court headed by Chief Justice N Paul Vasanthakumar also reprimanded the government for its imposition of a relentless curfew and told it to “enforce” Article 21 of the Constitution, which provides the “right to life”.
The division bench made these remarks while hearing a public-interest litigation filed in the aftermath of the curfew imposed following the killing of Hizb militant Burhan Wani. The court said that Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s statement in Lok Sabha on Thursday that the use of pellet guns will be reviewed, should be enough to discontinue the use.
“The home minister of the country on the floor of the Lok Sabha declared that he will have a committee of experts report within two months on a substitute to pellets. This must be sufficient for the government to discontinue use of pellet guns now,” the court said.
“In Kashmir, pellet gun has proved to not be non-lethal,” said the division bench also comprising Justice Muzaffar Hussain Attar.
As Advocate-General Jahangir Iqbal Ganie sought to defend pellet guns, the bench reminded, “Human life is most precious on this planet. Everything is created for the benefit of the human being and Article 21 of the Constitution prescribes that no person can be deprived of life except by the procedure provided by law.”
“What is that procedure? It has to be reason, fair and just. What is the procedure you are applying? The Article 21 of the Constitution is applicable to people of Jammu and Kashmir and please enforce it. See that you are deriving your authority from the Constitution and you can’t go beyond that,” the court said.
Rajnath Singh had admitted in the Lok Sabha that one person had died due to pellets in the suppression of protests after Burhan Wani’s killing, and that pellets had claimed six lives in 2010, the year they were introduced by the Indian government in Kashmir with a claim that they were a non-lethal weapon.
About 200 persons had suffered eye-injuries due to pellets in 2010, and in the past two weeks at least 183 persons, many of them children, have suffered eye injuries and blindness.
The high court pulled up the government for continuing with relentless curfew which entered its 15th day on Saturday.
“Has the State imposed the curfew for all these days?” the judges asked the advocate-general, who replied in the affirmative.
“There should be relaxation, at least in some peaceful areas,” the court said. “For how many days can you shut the doors of people? Restrictions one can understand, but there must be some relaxation in the curfew or curfew-like restrictions.”
The court said that one day there was an announcement that there will be some relaxation in the curfew, but “unwise people advised them not to. Unwise people, making their own people suffer,” the court remarked.
The advocate-general said that curfew had been imposed for the safety of people.
“Safety is important but right of living is also important. Have some wise people with you,” the court said.
The court said that just as the high court was functioning, all other institutions should be functioning in Jammu and Kashmir.
The high court also took the government to task over news reports that government forces were harassing volunteer organisations that were helping the injured.
“There was news in some newspapers that voluntary organisations are not al¬lowed to function, that they were threatened by police. …These are highly ab¬normal times for the people of Kashmir Valley. If somebody volunteers to help, you should not discourage them. Please don’t do it. You should encourage them,” the bench said.
The court did not buy the advocate-general’s explanation that people were satisfied with government help.
“These people protested on the road. See the photographs in newspapers. The photographs don’t lie because they cannot speak. Human beings can lie, not they,” the court remarked.