A five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court headed by Justice N V Ramana will likely hear from October 1 petitions challenging the Constitutional validity of the amendment to Article 370 revoking the special status for Jammu and Kashmir, and the reorganisation of the state into two Union Territories.
Supreme Court sources confirmed that the Bench had been constituted. They said that an official notification naming the other judges on the Bench would be uploaded soon on the court’s website.
A Bench headed by the Chief Justice of India had on August 28 said that the clutch of petitions challenging the changes to Article 370 — effected by means of a Presidential Order on August 5, and subsequently ratified by Parliament — would be heard by a five-judge Constitution Bench in the first week of October.
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The court had issued notice to the Centre, overruling its plea that taking up the petitions would have “cross-border repercussions”, and “statements made here” would be sent to the United Nations. The petitions accuse the Centre of tampering with the federal structure of the Union under the Constitution, with repercussions beyond just J&K.
Among the petitioners are National Conference Lok Sabha MPs Mohammad Akbar Lone (Baramulla) and Hasnain Masoodi (Anantnag). They have argued that the Centre unconstitutionally used Article 370 to undo Article 370, and “substitute(d) the concurrence of the Governor for that of the Government”, which “effectively… amounts to the Central Government… taking its own consent… to change the very character of a federal unit”.
The Presidential Order, according to the petitioners, used “a temporary situation meant to hold the field until the return of the elected government, to accomplish a fundamental, permanent, and irreversible alteration of the status of the State of Jammu and Kashmir without the concurrence, consultation or recommendation of the people of that State, acting through their elected representatives”.
This, they said, amounted to an “overnight abrogation of the democratic rights and freedoms guaranteed to the people of the State… upon its accession”.
Lone and Masoodi have also said that the Constitution does not allow downgrading of the state to a UT.
A separate petition, filed by Radha Kumar, a former member of the Home Ministry’s Group of Interlocutors for J&K, and others, contends that the amendments “strike at the heart of the principles on which the State of J&K integrated into India… especially as they had no affirmation/sanction from the people of J&K (which) is a constitutional imperative…”.
Petitions have also been filed by former IAS officer Shah Faesal, activist Shehla Rashid, and advocates Shakir Shabir, M L Sharma, Vineet Dhanda, and others.
The Supreme Court is also seized of a bunch of related petitions challenging the detentions and “communication blackout” in J&K in the wake of the Centre’s August 5 decision.
Hearing them on September 16, the court had asked the J&K administration to “ensure that normal life is restored in Kashmir… keeping in mind national interest”, even as it had seen “formidable reasons” behind the government’s move to enforce the restrictions.