Article 370: 5-judge SC bench to hear petitions

The Supreme Court has referred a clutch of petitions to a five judge bench, regarding challenging the constitutional validity of diluting Article 370, and trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into Union Territories.

The Central government, represented by Attorney General KK Venugopal and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, pleaded with a three-member bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi to exercise restraint as far as orders and oral observations on J&K were concerned. “The issue has international and cross-border implications. Whatever statements made here are sent to the United Nations,” Venugopal told the court.

Senior advocate Ashwani Kumar, who represented one of the petitioners, responded, “Does this mean the SC can’t do its duty?” Cutting both lawyers short, the CJI said, “We know our duties,” adding that the constitution bench may start hearing the matter from October.

On Wednesday, the three-judge bench held a special session to examine close to a dozen writ petitions dealing with the various issues related to Article 370 , including curbs on media, detention of local politicos, and curfew imposed by the Centre. The National Conference party challenged the Centre’s ‘unilateral’ move to impose curfew and unravel the unique federal structure of India by dividing J&K ‘sans the consent of the people’; the same was done by detained political leaders Shah Faesal and Shehla Rashid, who also challenged proclamation of President’s Rule in the state in December 2018.

A young law student, Mohammed Aleem Sayed, sought SC intervention to meet his aged parents in the Valley, while Communist Party of India-Marxist general secretary Sitaram Yechury had a petition on habeas corpus to produce CPM leader and four-time Member of Legislative Assembly Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami, whose “whereabouts are not known” since August 5. The petition of Kashmir Times editor Anuradha Bhasin’s on press freedom in the Valley was part of the same hearing.

The CPM general secretary is set to fly to Srinagar on Thursday following the apex court go-ahead to meet Tarigami.

Yechury’s lawyer told the court that Tarigami’s whereabouts have been unknown for weeks and that Yechury had travelled to Kashmir earlier, but was not allowed to leave the airport.

Solicitor General Mehta countered that Tarigami’s health is monitored daily and “he is hale and hearty”. “What can happen to him? He has been provided Z-category security,” said Mehta.

CJI Gogoi said, “Whether he has Z or Z-Plus category security, if a citizen wants to meet him, you must let him.”

When Mehta offered to make arrangements to escort Yechury, the CJI said he would go on his own, but pointed out that it has to be a personal trip without political comments. Yechury was also asked to file an affidavit on his return. Yechury has written to J&K Governor Satyapal Malik to facilitate his meeting, and citing his own poor health, requested that an attendant be allowed to travel with him on Thursday.

Meanwhile, petitioner Mohammad Aleem Sayed was granted permission by the SC to visit his parents in Anantnag, and was asked to file an affidavit after his return. The apex court ordered the government to facilitate his travel and give him adequate protection. Sayed, a law student from Jamia Millia Islamia University, had petitioned the SC that he had not been able to travel to Srinagar and had no idea how his parents were. He was apprehensive that his parents are detained as he couldn’t contact them.

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