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Latest news on J&K: Sibal criticizes the government over Article 370; 5,000 under house arrest

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On the 13th day of the heated Supreme Court hearings challenging the repeal of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and senior advocate Kapil Sibal engaged in a passionate debate. The issues at stake are the restoration of statehood and the organization of an Assembly election in the region. You can follow the case on the Supreme Court’s website. 

Mr. Mehta, representing the government’s side, informed the court that the possibility of conducting an election – a major concern for critics of the center’s J&K policy – is open and solely dependent on the decision of the central and state poll bodies. However, regarding the timeline for restoring statehood, he admitted that the government is “unable to provide a precise timeframe”. 

The Solicitor General began his arguments for the day by citing government data to emphasize the improved law and order situation in J&K. He pointed out that “the number of organized bands has dropped from 52 in 2018 to zero now”. Mr. Sibal, however, strongly disagreed with this view. 

Mr. Sibal, who is advocating for some of the petitioners, responded with a touch of sarcasm. He questioned the claim’s validity, citing the imposition of Section 144 and house arrests of around 5,000 people. He urged the government to avoid turning democracy into a “mockery”. 

He highlighted that with “5,000 individuals under house arrest, the implementation of Section 144, and the internet shutdown, even accessing hospitals was a challenge”. He questioned how any form of protest or strike could occur under such circumstances, while the court acknowledged these conditions. 

Mr. Sibal continued his passionate argument: “This hearing is being televised and everything is on record. They are portraying it as, ‘look at all the things the government is doing’.” 

In response, the Solicitor General stated that “progress never creates problems”. 

Chief Justice DY Chandrachud intervened in the debate, clarifying that “Constitutional issues will be dealt with only from a constitutional perspective and not based on policy decisions”. He also acknowledged that the roadmap to full statehood would take time, but assured that J&K’s status as a Union Territory is not permanent. 

J&K: On the Road to Elections 

In the previous hearing, the court emphasized the need to restore democracy in the former state, which has been without an elected government since June 2018. 

After the repeal of Article 370 in August 2019, the government assured that it would restore statehood and arrange elections at an appropriate time. Union Home Minister Amit Shah made statements in parliament to this effect, but no precise deadline has been set as yet. 

On Monday, the government reassured the court that the current status of J&K is temporary and that statehood will be restored. “For the time being, it is necessary for J&K to remain under the Union as a Union Territory… ultimately, J&K will regain its statehood,” Mr Mehta stated.

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