The Supreme Court Wednesday disposed of a plea by the wife of Jammu and Kashmir Congress leader Saifuddin Soz claiming that he had been illegally detained, with the government submitting that he was never detained or put under house arrest.
A Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, Vineet Saran and M R Shah said it would not enter into the question any further.
In her plea, Soz’s wife Mumtazunnisa had said he had been detained since August 5 last year, when the special status of J&K was abrogated, and the grounds for his arrest had not been furnished till date. She said this amounted to “depriving the detenu of his fundamental right of making effective representation guaranteed” under the Constitution and laws.
Speaking to The Indian Express over the phone from his house in Srinagar, Soz, 83, said he had tried to leave even on Wednesday. “I am at the gate, I wanted to visit my daughter and I am not being allowed by the police,” he said. “They say they haven’t received any order (regarding letting him out). When will they receive the order?”
Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association chief Mian Abdul Qayoom, who has also been in detention for almost a year, is, meanwhile, set to walk free on Thursday, with the Union Territory administration assuring the Supreme Court of the same.
Issuing the order in the Qayoom case on Wednesday, the Supreme Court had a word of advice for the people of Kashmir. “So many things happened there, which should not have happened… Hope people look towards the future and stop wandering in the past,” the court said.
Appearing for Mumtazunnisa, Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi said though the J&K administration affidavit claims Soz is not illegally detained, this was contrary to facts.
Calling Soz a “categorised protectee”, the J&K administration said in its affidavit that Soz “never was under any detention” and that “no restriction whatsoever has been placed on (his) movement”.
Disposing of Soz’s wife’s plea, Justice Shah drew Singhvi’s attention to paragraph 10 of the document submitted by the J&K administration. As per the paragraph, “it is submitted that none of the constitutional, fundamental or statutory rights of Prof. Saifuddin Soz have been violated or infringed”. It added that the claims “in respect of house arrest/detention of Prof Saifuddin Soz are false, frivolous and baseless as he has not been detained at all, let alone under provisions of Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, 1978, as alleged”.
The J&K government submitted that as “a categorised protectee”, Soz “is provided with round the clock armed guards and Personal Security Officers”. “Further, whenever he goes out for his personal, political or official assignments, he travels in Government Bullet Resistant vehicles with other Government vehicles”.
About measures after Article 370 was abrogated, the affidavit said Soz had been advised “not to visit vulnerable areas”. However, it said, the government provided him proper security cover “as and when… he conveyed his program for visit to (a) local area”.
On who could visit Soz, the administration said, “There is no restriction on any guests to (the) house, subject to proper checking… by the access control security deployed at his residence.”
The affidavit also submitted that Soz had travelled outside J&K “on several occasions”, listing three flights — on October 20, December 15, and December 20, 2019 — between Srinagar and New Delhi.
In her plea, Mumtazunnisa said Soz had been “placed under house arrest in an unlawful and manifestly illegal exercise of powers”. She said the copy of “the impugned order(s) of detention was not provided to the detenu within the statutory period, and even after that, for a period of ten months”.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Soz said the only official word he had received on his “detention” was what the group commander (of the security at his residence) had told him verbally on August 5 last year — “that I can’t go out and that I am under house arrest”. “When I asked for a copy of the order, he said these days everything is being done verbally.”
Soz said he had also talked to the SSP, Security. “He was clueless or he didn’t want to tell me. He asked me to talk to higher-ups. Now I am going to call (DGP) Dilbagh Singh.”
Soz said it was worse than being in jail as officially he was “a free person”. “At least in jail they will give you something in writing and you can go to court.”
The Qayoom matter came up before a Supreme Court Bench of Justices S K Kaul, Ajay Rastogi and Aniruddha Bose. On July 27, the court had asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the J&K administration, to inform whether the government was willing to release Qayoom, who is in his 70s, without any further delay if he was ready to abide by the condition that he will not go to Kashmir till August 7 and not make any statements till that date. The court suggested this after Mehta submitted that the government did not intend to extend his detention beyond August 6, when it is set to expire.
On Wednesday, the Solicitor General told the Bench that it was agreeable to releasing Qayoom tomorrow. Welcoming the government stand and “Mehta’s efforts”, the Bench observed that this would ensure that Qayoom could “celebrate Eid with his family”.
One of the many leaders and activists detained in Kashmir ahead of the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5 last year, Qayoom was placed under the PSA two days later.
The court had a word of advice for Qayoom, the government as well as the people of Kashmir. It said it hoped that the Bar association chief will adopt “a more constructive approach” and not make any statements as agreed upon till August 7. It hoped the government would consider bringing “complete normalcy” to Kashmir. On Kashmir, the court said it had “a fair idea about that place”. “We must say that Kashmir has been a troubled area. Nature has been kind to the place. It is time for all roads to be built to the future.”
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