Can’t Say Exactly When Jammu & Kashmir’s Statehood Will Be Restored; Ready For Elections : Centre Tells Supreme Court
The Central Government on Thursday told the Supreme Court that it cannot give an exact timeline for restoring statehood to Jammu and Kashmir. At the same time, it clarified that the Union Territory status of J&K will be temporary.
“I am unable to give an exact time period for complete statehood, while saying UT status is a temporary status”, Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta told a Constitution Bench which is hearing a batch of petitions challenging the repeal of J&K’s special status and its downgrading as a Union Territory. On the previous day of hearing, the bench led by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud had asked the Centre to give a definite timeline for restoring statehood and conducting elections in the region, while observing that “restoration of democracy is important”.
SG said that the initiatives taken by the Centre to restore stability in the region are progressing and full Statehood will be decided
As regards elections, the SG said that the “Central Government is ready for elections any time now”. “Till date, updating of voters list was going on, which is substantially over. Some part is remaining, that the Election Commission is doing”, he added. Regarding the time for elections, SG said that the State Election Commission and the Election Commission of India will take a call together. The SG explained that three-tier elections are to be held. Panchayat, Municipality and Legislative Assembly elections are over. He informed that the Hill Development Council elections in Leh are over and Kargil are due to take place this month.
Roadmap to Statehood is ready; but more stability needed, SG says.
SG explained that various steps have been taken by the Union Government to make the region stability. He added that compared to the pre-2019 situation, terrorist induced incidents have reduced by 42.5%. Infiltration reduced by 90.20%. Law and order situations, stone pelting etc., have reduced by 92%. Security persons casualties have reduced by 69.5%.
He further said that the Centre has taken various steps to boost investments in the area and several projects have come up, resulting in the youth, who used to get misled by secessionist forces, are now gainfully employed.
“What affected the elections most were stone-pelting incidents and regular calls for bandhs/hartal. In 2018, the stone pelting was 1761. Now it is NIL. Not just because of police and security steps, but by other steps such as gainfully employing youth who used to be misled by secessionist forces. Organised bandhs by secessionist groups in 2018 was 52. Now it is NIL”, SG said.
He further added that in 2022, 1.8 crores tourists visited. In 2023, 1 crore tourists have visited.
With the above statements, the SG explained that the process of making the region stable is a work in progress and Central Governance as a UT was essential to make these initiatives successful. However, this is a temporary status and full statehood will be restored when the region becomes totally stable and ready, he said.
Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, the counsel for the petitioners, disputed the statements of the SG, and submitted that the picture of normalcy is sought to be created using coercive steps such as house arrest and internet shutdowns. “If you have 5000 people under house arrest and 144 throughout the state, there can be no bandh! My request is please don’t enter into arena because we would have to counter it with all kinds of facts”, he said.
CJI clarified that the bench will not take into account these facts regarding post 2019 situation to decide the Constitutional questions.
“To be fair to the SG, what he was saying is that the roadmap to full statehood would take time but right now development work is taking place, some stability has to come, this is not permanent.These are matters where there can be and should be policy deferences but that can’t affect the constitutional arguments. We place these facts in the perspective of the roadmap to statehood. This isn’t a justification and cannot be to constitutional challenge”, CJI said.
During the last hearings, the Supreme Court had asked the Union Government to provide a time-frame or roadmap for the restoration of statehood of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). The bench, comprising Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud and Justices SK Kaul, Sanjiv Khanna, BR Gavai, and Surya Kant had emphasized that while national security concerns were understood, the restoration of democracy in the region was equally vital. “Equally, restoration of democracy is important,” CJI had asserted.
Upon this query, the Solicitor General, after taking instructions, had informed the bench that while the statehood of J&K would be restored, Ladakh would be retained as a UT.
“The instructions are that UT is not a permanent feature. But I will make a positive statement day after tomorrow. Ladakh will remain UT”, SG had said. SG also submitted during the hearing that except for police and public order, all other powers are there with J&K.
Earlier, the Court had asked the Centre if the conversion of J&K into a Union Territory was consistent with the doctrine of federalism, as it was done when the State was under the President’s rule and its Assembly was dissolved. “It is effectively a State for all purposes except for the entries of police and public order”, he said.