Last week, the Srinagar Bench of the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir allowed two National Conference MPs to hold separate meetings with their party president Dr Farooq Abdullah and vice president Omar Abdullah, who have been in detention since the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5.
However, the single-judge Bench barred the two Lok Sabha MPs — one of whom is a retired judge of the same High Court — from speaking to the media regarding the meeting, and imposed restrictions on the nature of the meeting.
What is the background of the incident, and the details of the case order?
The NC MPs’ petition
National Conference MPs Justice (retired) Hasnain Masoodi MP (Anantnag) and Muhammad Akbar Lone (Baramulla) filed a writ petition on September 4, with a prayer for directions to permit their meeting with the two senior leaders under Article 226, an omnibus constitutional power allowing High Courts to exercise jurisdiction and pass directions in relation to their jurisdictional territory.
The petition, the first attempt by NC leaders for deliberations among themselves in the aftermath of the August 5 decision by the central government and its subsequent approval by Parliament, said the two Abdullahs had been under arrest since that day, and had not been allowed to meet any party workers, and even their relatives. Submitting that they too, were close friends of the leaders, the two MPs pleaded they were interested in knowing their wellbeing.
As per the High Court’s order, Justice (retired) Masoodi also “claimed” that being a retired judge and a senior advocate, he was capable of rendering legal advice and assistance to the leaders, who were in detention for “undisclosed” reasons.
On September 6, during the initial hearing, Justice Sanjeev Kumar asked a government counsel, who was “incidentally” present in the court, to ascertain whether the two petitioners were “actually” prevented from meeting their party president and, if so, for what reasons. The hearing was adjourned until September 11.
The HC’s final order
In the order released on Thursday, Justice Kumar directed the Deputy Commissioner of Srinagar to take steps to facilitate a meeting of Masoodi and Lone with the Abdullahs at the earliest. While Omar has been detained at Hari Niwas, Farooq has been detained at his own house in Srinagar’s Gupkar area.
However, the Bench in the same order also directed the two MPs to “ensure” that the meetings were “restricted to a courtesy call” only, and to know about the wellbeing of the two NC leaders. The Court also made it clear that Masoodi and Lone “shall not go to press/media regarding their meeting and deliberations with the aforesaid persons”.
The direction to restrict their meeting to a courtesy call in effect rejected the argument made by Justice Masoodi’s counsel that he (Masoodi) could provide legal advice to his party leaders regarding their detention.
In its submissions, the government does not seem to have pleaded for restrictions on the nature of the meetings, or for their contents to not be disclosed publicly. Counsel for the government, in a verbal response, is recorded to have stated that there “is no formal restriction” on the meeting of the two MPs with their party leaders, and that the state was not averse to the meeting. However, the counsel asserted that the MPs must ensure that they would not do anything aimed at “vitiating the peaceful atmosphere”.
The Yechury case
In their petition, the two MPs referred to a habeas corpus plea filed by CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury in the Supreme Court regarding the whereabouts of J&K party unit leader Mohd Yousuf Tarigami.
On August 28, the Supreme Court had allowed Yechury to travel to Kashmir to meet his colleague, but only to enquire about his health, and “for no other purpose”. The court had warned that if Yechury was found “to be indulging in any other act, omission or commission save and except what has been indicated above i.e. to meet his friend and colleague and to enquire about his welfare and health condition, it will be construed to be a violation of this Court’s order”.
Counsel for Yechury was told that once his client returns to Delhi, he would have to “file a report supported by an affidavit in connection with the purpose of the visit as indicated in this order”.