Top Court Gives Modi’s Government More Time to Defend Kashmir Move
(Bloomberg) -- India’s top court gave another month to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to defend its decision to scrap seven decades of autonomy in the contested region of Kashmir.
A five judge constitution headed by Justice N.V. Ramana adjourned hearing the case to Nov. 14, allowing the government to file a written response to petitions seeking the reversal of the decision to abrogate Article 370 of Indian constitution that granted Kashmir special status.
India’s top court has come under criticism for not giving priority to cases against the related decision to impose an unprecedented communication and movement lock down in Kashmir on Aug. 5. Government lawyers have maintained that “other countries could take advantage” of the court hearing -- a reference to Pakistan trying to build a legal case against India on Kashmir.
The petitioners -- including lawyers, activists, and politicians -- opposed postponing the hearing as the decision to bring Kashmir under direct rule of the federal government comes into effect on Oct. 31. The court said it will reverse the decision later if needed.
India’s relations with Pakistan are being further strained by the lock down in Kashmir after Modi ended autonomy for the disputed state. Kashmir, in the Himalayas, has been divided between India and Pakistan since independence from British rule, and is claimed by both. Two of the nations’ three wars were fought over the territory.
“India is trying to convince the world that the situation is returning to normal,” Sardar Masood Khan, the president of Azad Jammu and Kashmir in the Pakistani side of the divided territory, told reporters in Washington on Tuesday. “This is contrary to facts on the ground.”
The petitions claim that Article 370 could have been scrapped only by the recommendation of the locally-elected legislative assembly and not on the advice of the federal government-appointed state governor. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the petitions were politically motivated.
During a separate hearing on cases against lock down in the region, Mehta on Tuesday said the government had lifted all restrictions on movements in Kashmir. “Over a period of two weeks, the situation has improved.”
Fixed line phones are working but the internet cannot be allowed because fake news and forwarded messages from across the border threaten to worsen the situation, Mehta said.
The petitioners disagreed, saying the restrictions were ongoing, noting the lock down was affecting individual rights. “Personal liberty will have to be balanced against national security,” said Justice B.R. Gavai, one of the judges on the bench.
Khan said there has been no let up in the “blanket curfews and lock downs and the misery to which the citizens of Jammu-Kashmir” are being subjected. He warned that a further deterioration of the situation could lead to mass migration, refugee flows and a backlash that could include a “resurgence in armed resistance” in the Indian side of Kashmir.
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