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India’s Supreme Court to deliver verdict on Kashmir’s special status

India’s Supreme Court to deliver verdict on Kashmir’s special status


NEW DELHI — India’s top court is due to give its verdict on pleas challenging the revocation of special status for the former state of Jammu and Kashmir.

In August 2019, the BJP-led government revoked Article 370 of India’s Constitution, which had guaranteed significant autonomy to the region.

The state of more than 12 million people was also split into two federally administered territories.

The Supreme Court had reserved its order in September.

The region in question was once a princely state called Jammu and Kashmir, but it joined India in 1947 soon after the sub-continent was divided up at the end of British rule.

Nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan have since fought two wars and a limited conflict over Kashmir. Each has come to control different parts of the territory with a ceasefire line agreed.

Media reports say that security has been tightened in Kashmir ahead of the verdict.

“We are duty-bound to ensure that peace prevails in the [Kashmir] valley under all circumstances,” VK Birdi, the inspector general of Kashmir zone, told PTI news agency.

Politicians in Kashmir expressed hope that the court would overturn the government’s decision.

“I think the decision should be simple that whatever was done was illegal, unconstitutional and against Jammu and Kashmir and the promises made to people here,” said Mehbooba Mufti, a former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir. She and several other politicians were kept under house arrest for months after the revocation of special status.

On 5 August 2019, the Indian government revoked nearly all of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which granted special privileges to the people of the state. The reorganization occurred amid a communications blackout and heightened security measures, flooding the region with troops.

The assembly, overseeing the state’s budget, spending, employment, education, and economic activity, was dissolved. A lieutenant governor was appointed to govern the region until local elections are conducted. Several activists and senior opposition leaders in the region were detained.

Article 370 allowed the state its own constitution, a separate flag and freedom to make laws. Foreign affairs, defense and communications remained the preserve of the central government.

As a result, Jammu and Kashmir could make its own rules relating to permanent residency, ownership of property and fundamental rights. It could also bar Indians from outside the state from purchasing property or settling there.

The constitutional provision had underpinned India’s often fraught relationship with Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority region to join India at partition.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had long opposed Article 370 and revoking it was in the party’s 2019 election manifesto.

They argued it needed to be scrapped to integrate Kashmir and put it on the same footing as the rest of India. After returning to power with a massive mandate in the April-May general elections in 2019, the government lost no time in acting on its pledge.

Many Kashmiris believe that the BJP ultimately wants to change the demographic character of the Muslim-majority region by allowing non-Kashmiris to buy land there.

In August this year, a five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court began hearing nearly 23 petitions challenging the government’s decision.

The petitioners stressed on the unique nature of Kashmir’s relationship with India, and said Article 370 “acted as a bridge” between the constitutions of India and Jammu and Kashmir.

The state comprised the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley, the Hindu-dominated Jammu region and the high altitude Buddhist enclave of Ladakh.

The petitioners argued that the state’s reorganization into Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh as federally administered territories violated India’s Constitution, which requires the state legislative assembly’s approval to reduce a state to a union territory.

The petitioners said that the abrogation of Article 370 also took away the region’s internal sovereignty without considering the will of its people. But the government claims this sovereignty was surrendered to India in 1947.

Many of the restrictions imposed after the scrapping of the special status have been eased and the scenic Kashmir valley attracted more than 16 million tourists in 2022. The government has said it is ready to hold state elections and restore statehood.

However, the government frequently imposes communication restrictions in the region for security reasons, criticized by rights groups as measures to suppress dissent. — BBC


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