The Supreme Court on Wednesday accepted the Centre’s assurance that it does not intend to “touch” the special constitutional provisions protecting the interests of the people of the northeastern States.
The issue came up for debate before a Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, which is hearing the challenge to the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir. Petitioners raised apprehensions that tinkering with the “periphery” of the country can have severe implications, such as the months of ethnic violence seen in Manipur.
Advocate Manish Tiwari, for the petitioner side, said that “even a slight apprehension in the periphery of India can have a severe implication… Your Lordships may know, as you are dealing with one such implication in Manipur”.
He referred to how Article 371 of the Constitution guarantees protection of the cultural and economic interests, as well as ensures the rule of law, for the people of 12 States, including Sikkim, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Nagaland, and Manipur.
Mr. Tiwari said that India, unlike the British empire, had chosen to “manage its realm” by giving its people, especially those living in the periphery, such “constitutional guarantees”. He added that the Constitution of India and its guarantees also served as a “national security instrumentality from the periphery of India to the hinterlands”.
‘Potential for mischief’
At this point, Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta intervened to clear the air.
“Article 370 was a temporary provision in the Constitution… We must understand the difference between a temporary provision and a special provision like Article 371 with regard to other States, including the North East… The central government has no intention to touch any part [of the Constitution] which gives special provisions to the North East and other regions,” Mr. Mehta assured.
He said that Mr. Tiwari’s statement had the “potential for mischief”. Mr. Tiwari said that he was not accusing the Centre of anything, but was merely noting a point of principle.
“But once the Solicitor-General, for the Centre, has assured that the government has no such intention, why should we apprehend that this is what the government plans to do in other parts of the country… Why should we deal with anything in anticipation and apprehension?” Chief Justice Chandrachud addressed Mr. Tiwari.
‘Not the people’s will’
During the day-long hearing, the lawyers for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), senior advocate Nitya Ramakrishnan and advocate Prasanna S., asked the court how the Centre could claim that the abolition of Jammu and Kashmir’s Statehood was a result of the “people’s will”.
The events which led to the abrogation of Article 370 began with the BJP pulling out of the erstwhile State’s ruling coalition with the PDP, led by then-Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti.
Ms. Ramakrishnan referred to a recent video interview of former J&K Governor Satyapal Malik, in which he alleged that he was acting under “dictation”, claiming that his concurrence on behalf of the Jammu and Kashmir government, leading to the abrogation of Article 370, was not valid. According to Mr. Malik, the Home Ministry had sent him the necessary papers on the night of August 4 for his approval by the next morning.
Ms. Ramakrishnan argued that Article 370 was not a “temporary provision” in the Constitution as the Union government claimed. “The Centre would want us to believe that Article 370 is temporary, lying in wait for a move for greater integration. The truth is, once J&K acceded, the people of J&K became Indians… What was the need for making J&K into a Union Territory… It is not as if the people in Union Territories are more integrated than people in the States,” Ms. Ramakrishnan submitted.