Above: CJI Ranjan Gogoi/Photo: Anil Shakya
Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi’s remark about personally visiting Jammu and Kashmir has raised hopes of the people of the state who have never been in such dire need of soothing therapy
By Pushp Saraf
For the stifled political class and the people, especially of the Valley, reeling under an unprecedented stringent communications blockade and security restrictions since August 5 when the Union government stripped the state of its special status and bifurcated it into two Union Territories, the Supreme Court’s slew of orders on September 16 provided a much-needed healing touch.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and comprising Justices Sharad Arvind Bobde and S Abdul Nazeer provided relief to quite a few. The bench allowed Ghulam Nabi Azad, Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha and former J&K chief minister, to undertake a visit to four districts of his home state after his three attempts were scuttled in August when he was sent back from airports in Srinagar and Jammu.
It tagged the petition, filed by the People’s Conference (PC), of Sajjad Lone, an ally earlier of the Bharatiya Janata Party, challenging the abrogation of the state’s special status, along with other similar petitions referred to a five-judge constitution bench.
It asked the central and state governments, on a petition filed by Anuradha Bhasin, executive editor of the Kashmir Times, to make all endeavours to restore normalcy in the Valley as soon as possible while making it clear that the restoration would be on a “selective basis” keeping in mind the national interest and internal security.
It sought a response from the government on a habeas corpus petition moved by MDMK (Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, a political party of Tamil Nadu) leader Vaiko seeking the release of former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah for attending an event in Chennai.
A sour note, though, was struck by a brusque administration hours before the petition came up before the Court by detaining the octogenarian National Conference leader under the draconian Public Safety Act after having held him under house arrest all along.
The icing on the cake was the chief justice’s categorical assertion that “if required, I will go to the Jammu and Kashmir High Court.” His remark was prefaced with the query: “Why is it difficult to go to the Jammu and Kashmir High Court? Is anyone coming in the way? We want to know from the Chief Justice (High Court).” He concluded by saying: “It’s very, very serious if people are unable to approach the High Court. I will myself visit Srinagar.”
While a clearer picture in this regard will emerge from the report of J&K Chief Justice Gita Mittal, a scrutiny of orders in all cases heard by the Srinagar bench of the J&K High Court between August 5 and August 26 by Apurva Vishwanath and Kaunain Sheriff M in The Indian Express speaks for itself. Their report headlined “In ‘interest of justice’, justice postponed in J&K High Court,” says: “Of the total of 288 cases heard in this period where orders were passed, petitioners were not present in 256 cases; respondents were not present in 235 cases; in at least 38 cases, the judges, Chief Justice Gita Mittal or Justice Rashid Ali Dar or both couldn’t receive even the case files. Almost all the orders follow two templates. One reads: ‘On account of restrictions on the movement of traffic in the State, counsels for the parties are not available. Record of the case has not been received. Interim orders, if any, to continue till further orders. List again on (date specified).’ This exact wording is repeated in several cases. The second format: ‘No one has appeared on behalf of the parties when the matter is called out today. In the interest of justice, list again on (date specified). Interim orders to continue till further orders.’ Of the 288 cases, 39 have been postponed to a date in August; 29 to a date in September; 114 in October and 90 in November. In short, over 70 percent of the cases have been deferred to dates in either October or November.”
Chief Justice Gogoi’s observation about personal intervention came during the hearing of a petition filed by child rights activist Enakshi Ganguly and Shanta Sinha, who was the first chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights set up under an Act of Parliament, on the condition of children between six and 18 years because of restrictions in J&K. He made his comment following the petitioners’ lawyer, Huzefa Ahmadi’s reply that “it is difficult to go to the High Court” to the Court’s remark: “You want things done under the aegis of the High Court, you can go there.” The Court told the activists to “be ready for the consequences” if the J&K Chief Justice’s report indicated anything to the contrary.
The apex court is clearly proceeding cautiously, taking into account all aspects of the situation in J&K. Going by the statistics of the killings and terror attacks post-1990 mentioned by Attorney General KK Venugopal and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to justify the restrictions after the August 5 announcement, Justice Bobde noted “these are formidable reasons… These are security matters.”
While allowing Ghulam Nabi Azad to undertake his trip, the Court has taken him at his word that he will focus only on finding out how people live in the present circumstances and he “would not make any speeches or hold any public meetings”. Azad himself told the media: “My petition was not about meeting my family or any political leader or to hold any public meeting. My petition was on humanitarian basis, it was about the lakhs of people—what they eat, how they are surviving.” The Court’s stance was quite in tune with its order of August 28 when CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury was permitted to meet his ailing party colleague, Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, in Srinagar only to enquire about his health, and “for no other purpose”.
Yechury was told that “it will be construed to be a violation of this court’s order” if he indulged “in any other act, omission or commission save and except what has been indicated above i.e. to meet his friend and colleague and to enquire about his welfare and health condition”.
After having got the go-ahead, Ghulam Nabi Azad has expressed his gratitude to the Supreme Court. He has felt relieved. After all, he had got the rough end of the Executive’s stick earlier on his own home turf. Like millions in the state, he too is happy over the possibility of the chief justice himself visiting Srinagar. Never before has the state, particularly the Valley, been in such dire need of soothing therapy as it is today.