A five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud on August 2 commenced hearing on a batch of petitions challenging the 2019 Presidential Order taking away the special status accorded to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir and its bifurcation into two Union Territories. The Constitution Bench, also comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Sanjiv Khanna, B R Gavai, and Surya Kant, would hear the matter consecutively starting from August 2, except for Mondays and Fridays. Now the constitutional validity of the Centre’s decision will be decided by the top court.
The clutch of petitions was recently heard on July 11 to complete the necessary pre-hearing formalities on March 2, 2020, when another Constitution Bench ruled against the necessity of referring the matter to a seven-judge bench. Petitions have been filed by political parties, private individuals, lawyers, activists, etc challenging the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, which downgraded and split Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories — Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. Intervention applications have also been filed by Kashmiri Pandits supporting the Centre’s move stripping special status accorded to the erstwhile state of J&K.
In an affidavit filed recently before the top court, the Central government has defended the revocation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir saying that its decision to dilute Article 370 has brought unprecedented development, progress, security, and stability in the region. The Union Home Ministry said that the street violence, engineered and orchestrated by terrorists and secessionist networks has now become a thing of the past and the “organised stone pelting incidences connected with terrorism-separatist agenda, which were as high as 1,767 in 2018 has come down to zero in 2023 till date”.
Article 370 of the Indian Constitution was incorporated as a temporary and transitional provision under Part XXI of the Constitution. Due to the inability of Maharaja Hari Singh to decide the merger of J&K with the Indian Union on 15th August 1947, the tribal invasion was unleashed – supported by Pakistan regulars – in October 1947. The Indian security forces successfully repelled the advances of marauding tribal invaders and took control of the situation. Pertinently, the Indian government landed its military forces only after having signed the Instrument of Accession with Maharaja Hari Singh on 26th October 1947. Article 370 was the fulfillment of the commitments made in the Instrument.
The most equitable change brought about by the revocation was the redefinition of State Subjects, now domiciles of the Union Territory (UT). Now, anyone who has lived in Jammu and Kashmir continuously for 15 years and students who have studied for seven years and taken their 10th and 12th class board exams in J&K can become domiciles of the UT. When Article 370 was revoked on August 5, 2019, many feared that Kashmir would explode. Much to the surprise of one and all, people tacitly greeted the change by not rising in revolt against the state, a spectacle that would previously be the routine affair. Not a single soul got killed as none protested the change.