New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday referred multiple petitions related to the abrogation of Article 370 to a Constitution bench while issuing a notice to the Centre and the Jammu and Kashmir administration on these petitions.
A bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S.A. Bobde and S.A. Nazeer also allowed Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury to go to the state and meet his party colleague Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami.
The court notice came despite the Centre requesting it not to issue it, saying Article 370 of the Constitution — which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir — had international and cross-border implications.
“We know what to do. We have passed the order, we are not going to change,” the bench said.
Representing the Centre, Attorney General K.K. Venugopal said it was a very sensitive matter and whatever happens in the country over it was raked up at the United Nations.
The court asked the Attorney General if that meant the Supreme Court should not do its duty.
The bench said it was aware of its duties and agreed to hear multiple petitions — those challenging the Centre’s decision to revoke Article 370 as well as those connected to the government-imposed clampdown and its consequences in the region.
The bench headed by Chief Justice Gogoi said the petitions will be heard by a Constitution bench of five judges from the first week of October.
The court was hearing petitions filed by National Conference leader Mohammad Akbar Lone, independent politician and former bureaucrat Shah Faesal, Kashmiri artist Inder Salim alias Inderji Tickoo and six retired military officers and bureaucrats who had challenged the decision to revoke Article 370.
The Supreme Court also allowed Yechury to go to Jammu and Kashmir and meet his party colleague Tarigami but restrained him from getting involved in any other activity.
The order came on Yechury’s habeas corpus petition challenging the detention of Tarigami ahead of the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5. The plea also stated that Tarigami was not in good health and Yechury wanted to meet him.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta opposed Yechuri’s plea saying his visit to the state could be used for political purposes.
However, Yechury’s counsel and senior advocate Raju Ramachandran said the CPI-M leader was ready to give an undertaking that he would only meet his colleague.
“We make it clear that if the petitioner is found to be indulging in any other act, omission or commission save and except what has been indicated above ie to meet his friend and colleague party member and to inquire about his welfare and health condition, it will be construed to be a violation of this Court’s order,” the bench said.
The bench directed a Senior Superintendent of Police to facilitate the travel and help the petitioner in locating the whereabouts of Tarigami.
The court asked Yechury to file a report when he returns to Delhi.
The court told Yechury not to use his visit for any other purpose and told Mehta that the government was free to stop the CPI-M leader and send him back if he did anything in violation of the court order.
“If a citizen wants to go any part of the country, he must be given access,” said the bench headed by Chief Justice Gogoi.
The court rejected Mehta’s offer of giving Yechury an escort during his visit. “There is no need to provide security,” it said.
Yechury had earlier tried to visit Kashmir with CPI General Secretary D. Raja on August 9. But the two leaders were detained at the Srinagar airport and sent back home.
On August 24 again, he accompanied an opposition delegation to Srinagar. But the group was detained and prevented from getting outside the airport.
In another habeas corpus plea filed by law graduate Mohammad Aleem Syed seeking information on the whereabouts of his family in Kashmir, the top court allowed Syed to travel to Anantnag and meet his parents.
The court also ordered the Jammu and Kashmir administration to facilitate Syed’s travel and provide him police protection. It directed him to file a report after meeting his parents.
The top court also issued notice to the Centre on Kashmir Times Executive Editor Anuradha Bhasin’s plea seeking relaxation on media movement in the valley and asked the government to file a response in a week.
The Court issued notice on a plea filed by activist Tehseen Poonawalla, who has raised the issue of lockdown in the region as amounting to suspension of Article 19 (freedom of speech) and 21 (personal liberty) of the Constitution.