Constitutional Committee will review which Central laws to apply to State
Asserting that “a pure and simple return to the pre-1953 situation” would “create a dangerous constitutional vacuum” in the relationship between the Centre and Jammu and Kashmir, the Group of Interlocutors appointed by the UPA government to identify the political contours of a solution to the problems of the State has recommended instead a “case-by-case review of all Central laws and Articles of the Constitution of India extended to the State” since 1952.
The group's final report, ‘A New Compact with the People of Jammu and Kashmir' — a copy of which is with The Hindu — is likely to be made public after the Cabinet Committee on Security clears its release on Thursday. The report proposes the setting up of a Constitutional Committee that would review the applicability of Central statutes extended to Jammu and Kashmir after the July 1952 Delhi Agreement. The review process — once ratified by Parliament and the State legislature — would eventually end the extension by presidential order of further Central laws to the State.
One of the key recommendations of the report is that Parliament will make no new laws applicable to Jammu and Kashmir unless these relate to the country's internal and external security and its vital economic interest.
The CC will be headed by an eminent jurist and have members from the State and the rest of India who “inspire confidence in all stakeholders.” It will bear in mind the dual character of Jammu and Kashmir — as a constituent of the Indian Union and as a State enjoying special status in the Union under Article 370 of the Constitution — and determine whether and to what extent the Central Acts and Articles have abridged the State government's powers to cater to the welfare of its people.
The CC, the report said, should be future-oriented in that it should conduct its review solely on the basis of the powers the State needs to address the political, economic, social and cultural interests, concerns, grievances and aspirations of the people in all the three regions, Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, and all the sub-regions and communities. “In this connection, the Committee will also need to reflect on the quantum of legislative, financial and administrative powers that the State government should delegate to the three regions at all levels of governance — the regional, district and panchayat/municipality.”
The CC's recommendations, the report mandated, must be reached through consensus so that they are acceptable to all stakeholders represented in the State Assembly and Parliament. The next step would be for the President, in exercise of the powers conferred by Clauses (1) and (3) of Article 370, to issue an order incorporating the recommendations. This will have to be ratified by a Bill in both Houses of Parliament and by each House in the State legislature by a margin of not less than two-thirds majority. It will then be presented to the President for assent.
“Once this process is over, Clauses (1) and (3) of Article 370 shall cease to be operative and no orders shall be made by the President hereafter under the said clauses as from the date of the final order,” the report added.
However, the group members believed that many of the Central laws made applicable to the State over the past six decades “should not give rise to any strong objections” as these were “fairly innocuous laws that have been beneficial to the State and its people.”
The group, chaired by Dileep Padgaonkar, and including Radha Kumar and M.M. Ansari, submitted its report to Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram last year.
The report said the search for a solution in J&K should not be made contingent on India-Pakistan talks. “If the stakeholders in Jammu and Kashmir are willing to enter into a settlement, the door can always be kept open for Pakistan to join.” The key objective, it added, was to make the Line of Control irrelevant. “It should become a symbol of Concord and Cooperation.”
A hassle-free movement of people, goods and services across the LoC and the International Border must be swiftly ensured leading to institutionalised cooperation between the two parts of the former princely State. Another recommendation was to take all appropriate measures to regard J&K as a bridge between South and Central Asia.
In its suggestion for harmonisation of relations across the LoC, the report noted that no permanent solution can be achieved unless it applied to those parts of the former princely State that were now under Pakistani administration. “Any attempt at harmonisation of Centre-State relations and devolution of powers at the regional, district and panchayat/municipality levels across the LoC, therefore, will necessitate wide-ranging constitutional change in Pakistan-administered Jammu and Kashmir. If agreed, such harmonisation will permit the development of joint institutions across the LoC for development, resource generation and other common matters,” the group said, and recommended that these issues be discussed with the representatives on the other side of the LoC.
* The group wanted promotion of Track II interactions for a resolution on both sides of the LoC. It wanted the resumption of Government of India-Hurriyat dialogue at the earliest opportunity. Pakistan and Pakistani-administered areas should be encouraged to enter into dialogue on the recommendations fine-tuned by the CC and the points that emerged from the GoI-Hurriyat dialogue.
* Among other recommendations were to replace the word “Temporary” from the heading of Article 370 with the word “Special” as has been used for other States under Article 371, to appoint the Governor from a list of names prepared by the State Government in consultation with opposition parties, to hold fresh election within three months if Article 356 is used. As the action of the Governor in the use of Article 356 was now justiciable, it suggested that the present arrangement on its use should continue.
* Three Regional Councils, one each for Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, would be created with Ladakh no longer a division of Kashmir. The proportion of officers from the All India Services would be gradually reduced in favour of officers from the State civil service.
The report noted that the roadmap leading to political, economic and cultural freedoms depended on the credibility of the dialogue process, implementation of key Confidence Building Measures, and building a consensus among stakeholders. The CBMs suggested included speeding up of reforms related to human rights and rule of law, amendment of the Public Safety Act, and review of the Disturbed Areas Act and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. It also called for a Judicial Commission to look into the unmarked graves, with emphasis on identification of missing/disappeared persons. In order to ensure better implementation of the CBMs, the group recommended the establishment of an empowered group to monitor them.