New Delhi: All petitions against the Jammu and Kashmir lockdown since abrogation of Article 370 and 35A by the President on August 4 were on Monday sent to a new 5-judge Constitution Bench set up to hear the constitutional validity of the President's decision.
It will also look at the Parliament decision carving out the union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.
Since all government actions to prevent spurt in violence are a corollary of removal of Article 370, they will also go before the Constitution Bench headed by Justice N V Ramana, ruled a 3-judge Bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S A Bobde and S A Nazeer.
Sending the petitions on the ongoing lockdown to Justice Ramana's Constitution Bench, CJI Gogoi remarked: "We don't have time to hear so many matters. We have a Constitution Bench case (Ayodhya) going on....
These petitions will be now heard by the Kashmir Bench." Besides Justice Ramana, other judges on the Bench are Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, R Subhash Reddy, B R Gavai and Surya Kant.
The CJI also refused to further entertain Tamil Nadu's Rajya Sabha MP Vaiko’s plea for production of former J&K Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah; the court told his counsel that the former CM is under detention under the J&K Public Safety Act and as such it can be challenged only before the appropriate authority, which in this case is the J&K High Court.
The second Constitution Bench, led by Justice Ramana, is slated to start hearing another batch of around two dozen petitions, seeking to quash abrogation of Article 370, ending special rights and privileges of the Kashmiris for almost seven decades.
It is to be seen whether this Bench would tackle the score of problems from the lockdown first and pass any interim orders before hearing the petitions challenging abrogation of Article 370 and the Centre's unilateral move to change the status of J&K into two territories through an Act of Parliament.
The 3-judge Bench headed by the CJI took on record the Centre's response that the restrictions clamped in Jammu and Kashmir were based on formidable reasons and that has helped in stopping thousands of instances of death, terror and violence that was going on in the state since 1990.
The affidavits filed by the Centre, including one on September 16, have been constantly insisting that false allegations are being made, as the people of Kashmir lack nothing, neither food nor medicines nor free movement.
The Centre has also insisted that restrictions under Section 144 on assembly of more than five persons had been removed in 93 out of 105 (88.57%) police stations of Kashmir division; in all 90 police stations (100%) in Jammu division; and in all 7 (100%) police stations of Ladakh division.
It has further said three months' stock of essential commodities such as food grains, LPG cylinders, petrol, diesel, etc. had been faccilitated. Giving statistics to the court, the government said 8,98,050 LPG refills were home-delivered to consumers in the last one month and 6.46 lakh quintals of ration were distributed among consumers in Kashmir.
It said primary, middle and high schools were functioning normally across Jammu and Ladakh Division (100%) while 97% of all schools were functioning in the Kashmir Division.
The prolonged lockdown has seen many habeas corpus petitions. Instead of ordering the authorities to prove the well-being of those detained or arrested, the Supreme Court allowed the petitioners to travel to J&K to meet the persons but under certain conditions.
The cases that will now go before the Kashmir Bench include a petition by Anuradha Bhasin, executive editor of Kashmir Times daily challenging the media curbs and information blackout and another by child rights activists Shanta Sinha and Enakshi Ganguli on alleged illegal detention of children.