Overruling the Centre’s plea not to issue notice since it will have “cross-border repercussions” and “statements made here” will be sent to the United Nations, the Supreme Court Wednesday said a five-judge Constitution Bench will hear petitions challenging the Constitutional validity of the amendment to Article 370 revoking the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and its bifurcation into two Union Territories.
The bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S A Bobde and S Abdul Nazeer, which issued notice on a clutch of petitions and referred the matter to a Constitution Bench, said it will be heard in the first week of October.
The judges allowed CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury, who had moved a writ of habeas corpus seeking production of party colleague Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, to visit J&K only to enquire about his health and “for no other purpose”.
They made it clear that if Yechury was “found to be indulging in any other act, omission or commission”, it will be construed “a violation of this Court’s order”. His lawyer, senior advocate Raju Ramachandran, was told that Yechury, once he returns to Delhi, will have to “file a report supported by an affidavit in connection with the purpose of the visit as indicated in this order”.
The judges also allowed a student of Jamia Millia Islamia, Mohammad Aleem Syed, to visit his parents in Anantnag. Kashmir SSP (Security) Imtiyaz Hussain Mir has been directed to facilitate both visits.
In another decision, the bench issued notice on a petition by Kashmir Times Executive Editor Anuradha Bhasin who has challenged the “communication blackout” in J&K. Advocate Vrinda Grover, appearing for Bhasin, said Wednesday was the 24th day of the “communication blackout” since restrictions were put in place there.
On petitions challenging the validity of changes to Article 370, Attorney General K K Venugopal said the court “may not issue notice”. “Why not? It has to go to a five-judge bench,” the CJI replied.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta backed the AG and said the happenings in court will have repercussions outside the country.
“Notice is issued for the purpose of intimating parties to be present for hearing. We are here. Your Lordships may hear us”, Mehta said, adding “it has repercussions in other countries… This may also be misused… it has international implications. Whatever statements made here are sent to the UN”.
But the bench did not relent and issued notice to the Centre and other respondents. On Mehta’s submission that Tarigami had Z category security and was “not the kind of person who would go missing”, the CJI said “whether it’s Z or Z plus, if a citizen wants to visit a part of the country, he must have access to it”.
Raju Ramachandran, who appeared for Yechury, said “in spite of best efforts, he has not been able to enquire about the welfare of his said colleague and his attempt to meet him personally by going to the State of Jammu & Kashmir has also not succeeded, as he has been refused entry into the State.”
The bench then enquired if Yechury would like to go to J&K to visit Tarigami. Intervening, Mehta said people, who wanted to visit family members, have been doing so and this appeared to be a “political gimmick”. But the court did not seem to agree. “Here is a citizen of the country who wants to go and meet his colleague. Let him,” the CJI said.
The bench then said “we permit the petitioner to travel to Jammu & Kashmir for the aforesaid purpose and for no other purpose”.
Mehta then expressed the fear that the visit may be used for other purposes. The court said it will direct that the visit is only to enquire about Tarigami’s health. Accordingly, it made it clear in the order “that if the petitioner is 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 party member and to enquire about his welfare and health condition, it will be construed to be a violation of this Court’s order.”
It also asked Yechury to “file a report supported by an affidavit in connection with the purpose of the visit as indicated in this order” on his return to Delhi.
The bench also asked senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, appearing for Jamia Millia Islamia student Mohammad Aleem Syed, if he wanted to go to Anantnag. “Yes, if it can be safely done,” Hegde replied. The bench then ordered that Aleem “shall be allowed to travel to Jammu & Kashmir, go to Anantnag, meet his parents and, after ensuring their welfare, to report back to the Court on the next date fixed”.
Later, Yechury said he will visit Srinagar Thursday to meet Tarigami. “I will go there tomorrow in accordance with the permission granted by the SC. Twice, I had tried to meet Tarigami but failed because we were not allowed to leave the airport in Srinagar. Now with this order, the authorities there should facilitate my visit. So I am proceeding tomorrow to go and see Tarigami, and upon return, I will file my affidavit and continue whatever needs to be done on the basis of my visit,” he said.
Yechury also wrote to J&K Governor Satya Pal Malik informing him about the court decision and his travel to Srinagar. “Since I am not keeping good health and require assistance, personal attendant would also be accompanying me. Since I am coming there in pursuance of the directions of the Supreme Court, I hope I will be permitted a personal attendant,” he said in his letter.
Jamia Millia Islamia student Aleem, who will be visiting his parents in Anantnag, said: “I will go for two-three days and take some basic medicines home, along with blood pressure pills for my mother. My brother is supposed to get married on September 17 and my mother had asked me to bring elaichi from Old Delhi. I also have a stack of 200 wedding cards which I got printed in Delhi.”