Gag order on employees can be challenged in court, says senior advocate Zafar Shah

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‘Public servants are Citizens too, their basic rights cannot be suspended’

Srinagar: Two days after the government here barred its employees to speak on political matters on social media, legal experts have termed such an order against the fundamental rights of a citizen living in a state and asked the government to explain the term ‘political issue’.

Kashmir’s renowned lawyer, Advocate Zafar Shah said that the order is vulnerable to challenge on grounds that it violates the freedom of expression of a person.

“Every public servant has two profiles. One profile is that he working for a government and therefore becomes a government servant. The other profile is that he is also a citizen of the state where he lives. Now what the order says is that if you are a public servant, you will not speak on political issues. But what about a person who on one hand is a public servant and on the other is also a citizen of the state. Does that mean that his rights as a citizen have been suspended,” Shah asked.

He added that another aspect is that the employees have been asked not to speak on a political issue but the government has failed to explain what is a political issue?

“It needs to be asked whether this order is merely an administrative one or it has a political undertone.”

Shah said that there are apprehensions that the order could be a part of design, to gradually arrest such statements which have political overtones and at the same time it wants to make the bureaucracy politically neutral.

According to him, there is also one major question related to the recent gag order and it is that whether any such gag is in place anywhere in India where the whole of bureaucracy has also been “safronised”. “I am not sure whether such order has been issued anywhere in India. In mainland India, public servants write articles, speak on various issues and also are active on social media. But in their case no such gag order has reportedly been issued.”

Advocate Zafar Shah who earlier was much vocal against the removal of 35-A with explanatory videos becoming viral on the issue said that a group of people (government employees) who hardly constitute 4-5 percent of state’s total population is being put under control as it been asked not to express views on political matters.

“The order has ambiguously stated that you cannot speak on the political issues that too when there is no definition of what a political issue is and what is not. The gag order would be vulnerable to challenge on grounds that whether it violates the freedom of speech and expression?”

Zafar Shah maintained further that it is also thinkable that when Kashmir is witnessing the same situation for more than 70 years, why such order has been issued now.

“It means that the government is provoking a certain section of a society. The government has to also explain what would be its stand on those government employees who speak in its favour and support its policies? Is this gag order also preventing them from saying so?”

He added that it is a fact that a government servant may not indulge in active politics, but here the order asks government employees not to even speak and express views which takes this restriction a bit too far.

“Since in number of sectors in the government, the basic appointments were made on political considerations and how can you expect a person who has been appointed on political basis to remain apolitical,” Zafar said.


(With inputs from Umar Manzoor Shah for KNS)

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