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Wednesday, Dec 11, 2019

Top law officers’ absence in Article 370 hearing irks SC

The authorities slapped restrictions on public movement, clamped down on communication links and detained many politicians in Jammu and Kashmir after divesting the state of its special status and deciding to bifurcate it into two Union territories -- J&K and Ladakh -- in August.

india Updated: Nov 20, 2019 02:36 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
A three-judge bench led by Justice NV Ramana and comprising justices R Subash Reddy and BR Gavai said: “It appears the Centre and state are taking the matter very lightly. There is no senior lawyer present.”
A three-judge bench led by Justice NV Ramana and comprising justices R Subash Reddy and BR Gavai said: “It appears the Centre and state are taking the matter very lightly. There is no senior lawyer present.” (Amal KS/HT PHOTO)
         

The Supreme Court on Tuesday expressed displeasure over the absence of senior government law officers during the hearing of petitions filed against a clampdown on communications in Jammu and Kashmir after Article 370 of the Constitution, which conferred special status on the erstwhile state, was nullified on August 5.

A three-judge bench led by Justice NV Ramana and comprising justices R Subash Reddy and BR Gavai said: “It appears the Centre and state are taking the matter very lightly. There is no senior lawyer present.”

The judges were referring to the absence of attorney general KK Venugopal and solicitor general Tushar Mehta. Venugopal represents the Centre and Mehta is appearing on behalf of the Jammu and Kashmir Union territory.

The authorities slapped restrictions on public movement, clamped down on communication links and detained many politicians in Jammu and Kashmir after divesting the state of its special status and deciding to bifurcate it into two Union territories -- J&K and Ladakh -- in August. Public restrictions have since been lifted and landlines restored, but restrictions continue on Internet services.

The Supreme Court bench got upset when petitioners’ advocate mentioned that 106 days had passed since the petitions were filed on August 20 and that “for all these days, people have suffered immensely.”

The judges said the counsel was blaming the court for the delay. “There has been no delay on our side. We are regularly hearing the matter. This combination of judges was not to sit today but we asked the CJI that we want to hear the matter,” Justice Ramana told petitioner’s counsel, senior advocate Dushyant Dave, who clarified he had no complains against the court but against the Centre.

Justice BR Gavai then turned to the counsel appearing for the Centre, Rajat Nair. He asked him why the senior lawyers were not present. At this, Nair said the solicitor generalwas busy in another matter before a constitution bench. Justice Gavai remarked: “If he (solicitorgeneral) is preoccupied then you must make alternative arrangements.

Justice Ramana also said that despite court’s direction to that effect, J&K had not placed a status report on the present situation in the Valley.

“We wanted to know the status of transport facility but you have not given us anything. We want you (J&K) to start your arguments tomorrow. We will not adjourn the matter,” the judge told Nair. Later, the solicitorgeneral made an appearance in court and requested the bench to accommodate him for a day; he said he will commence his arguments on Thursday.

To Dave, Justice Ramana said; “Do you want to criticise the court Mr Dave.” The lawyer said in reply: “No, no. We are saying about the government”.

Dave, who was representing the ‘Foundation for Media Professionals’ which had filed an intervention application in the matter, replied that “this is the government which stood before your Lordships and said we will take care of everything”.

Justice Ramana said the court was cognisant that the matter was “important” and pointed out that it had been asking the government for daily updates on the status of the public transport and so on. “We are doing out best..It’s a very important matter”, he said.

Justice Gavai added “With no disrespect to the Bar, we have been hearing these arguments repetitively, for the third time”.

Dave responded by saying that the court should have set aside every other matter and heard the J&K petitions, saying “there is no matter more important than this”. He said he was referring not to the bench but to the Supreme Court as an institution.

Dave said the government’s contention that the restrictions were put in place because of terrorism was an argument that had to be rejected. He added that if this was allowed, the government will sometime in the future also cite the Maoist rebellion to suspend people’s fundamental rights.