The government will on Thursday make a “positive statement” on restoration of statehood to Jammu and Kashmir, the Supreme Court was told today after it asked for a “timeframe” for such a move.
The court – hearing petitions challenging the scrapping of Article 370, which gave J&K its special status – had stressed the need for restoration of democracy as it asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, “Can you convert a State into a UT? Can a UT be carved out of a State?” and when elections could be held.
“This has to come an end… give us the specific time frame as to when will you restore actual democracy. We want to record this,” the court said.
To this Mr Mehta had replied in the affirmative and pointed to Assam, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh as examples. “I have taken instructions. The instructions are that ‘union territory’ is not a permanent feature… I will make a positive statement day after tomorrow. Ladakh will remain a UT,” Mr Mehta said as he read out statements on the status of J&K made by Union Minister Amit Shah in the Lok Sabha.
The Constitution bench of the Supreme Court, which is led by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, also acknowledged national security concerns – posited by the government when Article 370 was scrapped four years ago – but reminded the latter of the importance of bringing back democracy in the region.
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In 2019 the government – amid a furious pushback from political activists and opposition leaders – scrapped Article 370 and split Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories – J&K and Ladakh. The government had assured its critics that statehood would restored “once situation returns to normal”.
“A statement (on restoration of statehood) has been made on Parliament floor. Efforts are being made… once situation returns to normal,” Mr Mehta told the court today, the 12th day of hearings, as he pointed to recent local elections in J&K as proof that restoration of statehood will soon take place.
On Monday the government told the court J&K’s present status is not permanent and that statehood will be restored. “It is necessary, for some time, J&K remains under the Union as a Union Territory… ultimately J&K will become a state (again),” the Solicitor General had told the Supreme Court.
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Also on Monday, the court agreed with the government’s submission that the J&K constitution is “subordinate” to that of the nation but seemed to disagree with the idea that erstwhile state’s Constituent Assembly was, in reality, a legislative assembly capable of making laws.
Last week the court was told no “constitutional fraud” had been perpetrated. Attorney General R Venkataramani, opening the government’s argument, told the court “due process was followed”.
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“There was no wrong-doing… there was no constitutional fraud as alleged by the other side. The step (revocation of Article 370) was necessary and their argument is flawed and inconceivable,” he said.
However, the court told the government it would have to justify procedure adopted for abrogation of Article 370 as it could not postulate a situation “where the ends justify the means”.
Petitioners opposing repeal of Article 370 have insisted the provision could not have been abrogated as the term of the J&K Assembly – the assent of which was required before taking such a step – ended in 1957, after which, it was argued, Article 370 acquired a “permanent” status.
With input from agencies