Supreme Court reserves verdict in Article 370 case after 16-day long hearing

Today was the 16th and final day of hearing in the case concerning the legal validity of the Central government’s move in August 2019 that resulted in the revocation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.

Delhi/ 5th of Sept 2023:The Supreme Court on Tuesday reserved its judgment in the Article 370 case, which involves a challenge to the Central government’s 2019 move to revoke the special status earlier conferred on the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir. [In Re: Article 370 of the Constitution]

A Constitution Bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud and Justices Sanjay Kishan KaulSanjiv Khanna, BR Gavai and Surya Kant reserved the verdict.

Judgment Reserved. We thank all the counsel,” CJI Chandrachud informed today evening after hearing rejoinder submissions by various petitioners.

Tuesday marked the 16th and final day of the final hearing in the matter.

With Justice Kaul’s last day on the bench being on December 24, and the Supreme Court’s winter recess beginning December 18 (Monday), the verdict in the case can be expected by December 15 (Friday).

Highlights from today’s hearing

During the course of today’s hearing, Senior Advocate Zaffar Shah, appearing for the petitioners, argued that in 1950, there was an ocean of autonomy available to Jammu and Kashmir due to Article 370 of the Constitution.

Justice Khanna was then prompted to remark that the declaration in the Preamble of the Constitution of India that it was being adopted by “the people of India” also included the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

“‘We, the people of India’ includes ‘we, the people of Jammu and Kashmir’ as well. We have moved with the passage of time and we need to keep moving. The second part of Article 370 is the main constitutional challenge before us,” he said.

Shah then stated that the practice of having two Constitutions as was the case with the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), was not uncommon.

Give us our self-governance back. For the unified nation, we have to win over the hearts of the people. And if the matter is decided in our favour then we will go a long way in winning the hearts of the people of Jammu and Kashmir,” he urged.

“Nobody can say filing an Article 32 plea is a separatist agenda”: CJI

Notably, the bench had yesterday asked Lok Sabha Member of Parliament, Akbar Lone, one of the petitioners in the case, to swear his allegiance to the Constitution of India.

Further, he was asked to state that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of the Union of India.

Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta had alleged that Lone had made several controversial statements.

In today’s hearing, the SG added that more such statements by Lone had come to light.

See the next statement; during the terrorist attack security forces are also killed but sympathies only for terrorists and victims,” the SG said.

Senior Advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan took strong objection to the SG’s assertions.

It is said filing a plea here constitutes a separatist agenda; that means we are all arguing for a separatist agenda?!” he asked.

Meanwhile, Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Lone, pointed out that the proceedings were live-streamed.

Chief Justice Chandrachud, in turn, termed this turn of events unfortunate, while asserting that no one should say that it is “separatist agenda” to file a petition to enforce one’s fundamental rights under Article 32 of the Constitution.

I think this is unfortunate. Nobody can say filing an Article 32 plea is a separatist agenda. Access to our court, ventilating rights, [is] within the framework of the Constitution. We have not heard the Attorney General for India, we have not heard the SG that these petitions should be dismissed that it is a separatist agenda. And it will be resolved as a constitutional issue. When individuals come before this Court, we know there is anguish and we know as judges how to deal with it,” he said.

As the hearing drew to a close, the Solicitor General also expressed strong reservations over the affidavit filed by Lone on the Court’s earlier direction.

That I stick to the oath taken while being sworn in as a member of parliament..’ This is adding insult to injury!” Mehta argued.

We will analyse it,” the Chief Justice responded.

Acts should not be done without consulting public: Petitioners

In his rejoinder arguments, Sibal stressed that India is a Union of States, and that there is no constitutional basis to deny the residents of Jammu and Kashmir the rights that come with living in a State.

The Senior Counsel ended on a poignant note, stating,

Your lordships are the ultimate arbiter as to how this Constitution should look like and how it should be interpreted. I walk out in silence but let the Court speak and India listens. It should not be such that acts are done in a way without consulting the public, without reference to the legislature. The public and we should not forget that people are central to the Constitution of India.

Senior Advocate Gopal Subramanium said that the instrument of accession did not lead to the complete transfer of sovereignty.

The instrument of accession finds a place in Article 370 and even the Constituent Assembly finds a place in 370. It was stated that there is no mention of Jammu and Kashmir Constitution in the Indian Constitution but my point is it is there. Look at the word – Constitution of the State and it is no other Constitution, but the constitution of Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.

He added that the Presidential orders enabling the abrogation of Article 370 were a flawed exercise of untrammeled power under Article 370(1).

The CJI responded by pointing out that the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir was not at par or superior to the Indian Constitution.

Senior Counsel Subramanium, in turn asserted that “there cannot be the evaporation of the Constitution (of Jammu and Kashmir) unless it is done in a manner in accordance with law.

Senior Advocate Rajeev Dhavan added to this stance, contending,

It is true that the Centre is not bound by all the recommendations but it does not take away the fact that Article 3 is a mandatory provision. Under the President’s rule you do not have the power to do away with the provision of the Constitution.

He emphasised that democracy, reasonableness and federalism, which are systematic and structural principles, had been given a go-by through the decision to abrogate Article 370

Centre is not able to provide a roadmap for restoration of Statehood and submit that time will come when statehood is restored. This is no roadmap at all and is entirely illusory. There is a violation of the multi-symmetric Constitution as well,” he added.

Senior Counsel Dushyant Dave pointed out that Article 370 of the Constitution has been in place for over 70 years and it was not the case of the Union government that the Article has failed.

Can the government of India, in the face of the law declared by this Court, say that the Article has ceased to operate..? Why were the constitutional framers so particular about it? … Jammu and Kashmir people are not foreigners. They are our own people.. People have a right to feel that the promise made to them has been kept.. if constitutional morality is allowed to be trampled in this fashion, then nothing will remain at all,” he added.