New Delhi: The Central government on Thursday told the Supreme Court that it cannot give any exact timeframe and it would take “some time” for restoration of statehood in Jammu and Kashmir while reiterating that the union territory status is “temporary”.
The state was downgraded into two union territories (UTs) -- J&K and Ladakh -- post abrogation of Article 370 in 2019.
“We are progressively proceeding to make J&K a complete state. But, I am unable to give the exact time period right now about the complete statehood, as per my instructions. Union Territory status is a temporary status because of the peculiar status, the state had passed through repeated and consistent disturbances of decades,” submitted Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta before the Constitution Bench hearing pleas against abrogation of Article 370.
Mehta added that the Central government is ready for elections at any time as updation of the voter list is substantially over by the Election Commission. He said that the call for election will be taken by the State Election Commission and the Election Commission of India.
“The government is ready and it is for the Election Commission of India and Election Commission of the state to take the call …The updating of the voter list is yet to be completed and in process. It will be over in a month or so. They (Election Commissions) will take the call considering the situation,” he said.
SG Mehta told the Supreme Court that a total of three elections -- Panchayats, District Development Councils and Legislative Assembly -- are due, after the panchayat system was introduced in 2019. Under Ladakh UT, elections for hill development council are over in Leh, while in Kargil, the elections are due in September, he added.
He said that the area is continuously progressing by citing different figures and apprised that in the previous year around 1.88 crores tourists visited J&K and the one crore mark has been crossed till date for year 2023.
Mehta said that on comparing the present situation with 2018, terrorist initiated instances are reduced by 45.2 per cent, infiltration has been reduced by 90.2 per cent, stone pelting reduced by 97.2 per cent, security persons casualty reduced by 65.9 percent. "These are factors which agencies would take into consideration… In 2018, stone pelting was 1,767 and it is nil now and calls of organised bands (protest) by secessionist forces were 52 and now it is nil," he said.
He reiterated that Union Home Minister Amit Shah had already made a statement on the floor of Parliament that after the situation returns to normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir, it would become a state again.
The Constitution Bench clarified that the development work undertaken by the Centre post August 2019 will not be relevant in deciding the constitutional challenge abrogation of Article 370.
On Tuesday, the Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud asked the Attorney General and Solicitor General to seek instructions from the Central government over the timeframe to restore statehood of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. The Centre said that the “Union Territory is not a permanent feature” and it will make a positive statement on August 31 before the court regarding Jammu and Kashmir.
During the hearing, the top court had stressed that the erstwhile state cannot be a “Union Territory in permanence", adding that the restoration of democracy was very important. In relation to Ladakh, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said that it would continue to remain a Union Territory.
The Centre had told the Constitution Bench that for the first time in the history of J&K, local government elections took place in 2020 where around 34,000 people were elected, adding that no “hartal (strikes), stone pelting or curfew” had been there in the valley post revocation of Article 370.
Notably, a 5-judge Constitution Bench is hearing a clutch of petitions challenging the 2019 Presidential Order taking away the special status accorded to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir and its bifurcation into two Union Territories.
In its affidavit filed before the top court, the Central government has defended the revocation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir saying that its decision to dilute Article 370 has brought unprecedented development, progress, security, and stability in the region.
The Union Home Ministry said the street violence, engineered and orchestrated by terrorists and secessionist networks has now become a thing of the past and and the “organised stone pelting incidences connected with terrorism-separatist agenda, which were as high as 1,767 in 2018 has come down to zero in 2023 till date”.
The Centre stressed that it has adopted a policy of zero tolerance against terrorism and after constitutional changes, the security situation in Jammu and Kashmir has improved significantly.
In the pending matter, intervention applications have also been filed by Kashmiri Pandits supporting Centre’s move stripping special status accorded to the erstwhile state of J&K.