A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court on Tuesday did not intervene in the implementation of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act of 2019 from October 31.
The Act reorganises the State of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories — Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. A fresh delimitation process will follow.
The five-judge Bench led by Justice N.V. Ramana wound up the hearing shortly after realising that the Centre and the J&K government have not yet filed any response to the series of petitions challenging the dilution of Article 370 abrogating the special rights and privileges of the Kashmiri people and the reorganisation of the State.
Both the Centre and the State government were issued notice by the Supreme Court in the main petition filed by advocate M.L. Sharma two months ago on August 28.
Yet, Attorney General K.K. Venugopal, for the Centre, on Tuesday, sought more time to file the replies. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for the J&K government, followed suit.
The Bench promptly agreed to the request made by the Centre and J&K for time. It gave them four weeks’ time to file counter affidavits and fixed the next date of hearing on November 14 - a fortnight after the Reorganisation Act is implemented.
“A realistic time limit,” Mr. Mehta reacted.
Senior advocate Raju Ramachandran, for some of the petitioners, tried to convince the court in vain that a deferment of the hearing to a date after the implementation of the Reorganisation Act would effectively leave the petitions infructuous.
“In the previous hearing, this court had ordered the government to exchange the pleadings. But now the government is still asking for time. The Act comes into existence from October 31 and this case would be rendered infructuous,” Mr. Ramachandran said.
Again, though the cases were referred to a Constitution Bench on August 28, the Chief Justice of India had set up the Bench only last week.
The petitioners argued that once the delimitation process starts after the reorganisation law is implemented, the effect would be irreversible.
“It is better we wait for them [Centre, J&K] to file their counter affidavits,” Justice Ramana replied.
Other judges on the Bench were also of the same opinion. Justice S.K. Kaul advised the petitioners “first let us ensure the pleadings are completed”.
Justice R. Subhash Reddy agreed that “in such matters how do we proceed without counters of the other side”.
“But we object to the government's request for more time...” Mr. Ramachandran insisted.
“How can we hear without their counters?” Justice B.R. Gavai addressed Mr. Ramachandran as Justice Surya Kant, the fifth judge on the Bench remained silent.
The Bench said even if the Act came into existence on October 31, the court could “turn the clock back” if a judgment is later made in favour of the petitioners.
The Bench made it clear that, if necessary, it would even direct the Centre to produce the relevant documents pertaining to its decision to scrap special status to Jammu and Kashmir.