J&K status plea: SC grants four more weeks to Centre

The Supreme Court on Tuesday said that it cannot pass any order before October 31, the date fixed for dividing the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories, on taking away of special status granted under Article 370 of the Constitution.

It granted four more weeks time to the Centre to respond to a batch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the decisions diluting Article 370.

A bench of Justices N V Ramana, Sanjay Kishan Kaul, R Subhash Reddy, B R Gavi and Surya Kant did not consider the plea that there was a need for status quo as the Jammu and Kashmir (Reorganisation) Act, 2019, passed in August, would come into effect from October 31.

“The court can put the clock back. It is unreasonable to think that any decision or order will be passed before October 31," the bench said.

The court put the matter for consideration on November 14. The bench maintained that the hearing in the matter cannot be commenced without the filing of the counter-affidavit by the Centre and the state. The top court also directed its registry not to entertain any more petition in the matter.

On August 28, the top court's three-judge bench presided over by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi had issued a notice to the Centre and the state on the issue.

On Tuesday, as the newly constituted five-judge assembled for the first time, Attorney General K K Venugopal along with Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre and the state respectively, sought four more weeks to file responses to about 10 petitions against the August 5 Presidential Order and the subsequent law.

Senior advocate Raju Ramachandran, appearing for one of the petitioners, contended that deferring the hearing further would make the petitions infructuous as the law for dividing the state into two Union Territories would come into effect from October 31. He said there was a need for urgent hearing and status quo must be maintained.

The bench, for its part, asked, “in such matters, how can it proceed without the counter-affidavit. We have to allow the government to file an affidavit.” The court granted time to the petitioners to file their rejoinders.

During the hearing, the court pulled up advocate Manohar Lal Sharma, who was the first one to file the petition, saying “You have played the fastest finger first but it does not mean you would be heard first.”

Prominent among those who questioned the Centre's decisions are J&K National Conference MPs Mohd Akbar Lone and Hasnain Masoodi, Shah Faesal, former IAS topper and president of J & K People's Movement, and Radha Kumar, former J&K interlocutor, along with a group of former bureaucrats.

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