Close to three months after the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A, which granted special powers to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, tomorrow will mark the beginning of the formal bifurcation process.
Meanwhile, violence, shutdowns and protests escalated in the Valley, as the bifurcation deadline closed in, with National Conference making a last-minute appeal to the Centre to desist from the move, and the Left parties terming the move as a ‘shameful day for democracy’.
From November 1, the state of Jammu and Kashmir will transition into two Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh. The process will begin with the swearing-in of the two newly appointed Lieutenant-Governors in Srinagar and Leh, respectively. The bifurcation and downgrade of the state into Union Territories will be a “low-key” affair.
Amidst this, severe restrictions have been imposed in Kashmir Valley and parts of Jammu and security has been beefed up. Earlier, the Home Ministry appointed a three-member committee to apportion the assets and liabilities of the State of J&K between the two UTs. The committee is yet to submit its report.
After the bifurcation process, the entire state bureaucracy will be in the hands of the central government. Here’s what the reorganisation entails:
The Union Territory of J&K will be administered by the President through an Administrator appointed by him. The administrator will be known as the Lieutenant Governor, just like New Delhi. Tomorrow, Gita Mittal, Chief Justice of the J&K High Court, will first administer the oath to G.C. Murmu in Srinagar to take over as LG, and then fly to Leh for the swearing-in of Radha Krishna Mahur as the LG of Ladakh.
With the bifurcation, the Legislative Assembly can now make laws for any part of the Union Territory of J&K. These laws are related to; any matters specified in the State List of the Constitution, except “Police” and “Public Order”, and any matter in the Concurrent List applicable to Union Territories. Further, Parliament will have the power to make laws in relation to any matter for the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir like the other UTs of India.
Under the Reorganisation Act, the number of seats in the Legislative Assembly of the UT of J&K has been increased from 107 to 114. Ladakh will not have an Assembly and will be directly governed by the Union Home Ministry through the LG.
The rules to govern under the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019 are yet to be notified.
Some seats will be reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in proportion to their population in the UT of J&K. In addition to this; the LG may nominate two women members if they are not adequately represented.
The High Court of J&K will be common for both UTs. In addition, there would be an Advocate General to provide legal advice to the government of the J&K.
In terms of the implication of the laws, after the abolition of Article 370, the 153 state laws have also been repealed. This includes lifting of prohibitions on lease of land to persons who are not permanent residents of J&K.
In a bid to facilitate the reorganisation process, the J&K administration – which is directly controlled by the Narendra Modi government in the Centre – has shut down seven government commissions, including those dealing with human rights, the right to information, the rights of the disabled, and allegations against public functionaries. An official order issued on October 24, said a total of seven state commissions would cease to exist with effect from October 31. No reason for their dissolution has been given.
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Speaking with NewsClick, Sharique Riaz, a lawyer from Kashmir said, “This is an unprecedented administrative overhaul which has not been witnessed before. The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act is bringing in changes which were not in sync with the constitutional mechanism of the state, we were a state which had its own constitution and our own commissions, including the police and the emergency services which were under the state cadre all the nodal agencies, now with everything being transposed to the union territory, from an administrative perspective, the state is headed for a total upheaval.”
In the backdrop of arrests of thousands of political party leaders, activists, academics, lawyers, and common people, and the state under lockdown for over 80 days now, Riaz said, “Politically the state remains extremely volatile, what it is important to remember is that the petitions are still pending in the Supreme Court. The move remains unprecedented as it is the first time a state has been “demoted” to a Union Territory, instead of the previous cases, where the newer states have been created to provide more autonomy.”
In October, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court did not intervene in the implementation of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act of 2019 from October 31. The five-judge Bench led by Justice N.V. Ramana wound up the hearing shortly after realising that the Centre and the J&K government had not yet filed any response to the series of petitions challenging the dilution of Article 370 abrogating the special rights and privileges of the Kashmiri people and the reorganisation of the State.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership trying its best to brand the move as one that will bring unity, as October 31 coincides with the birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is visiting the Statue of Unity at Kevadia in Gujarat to mark the occasion while Home Minister Amit Shah would flag off a “Run for Unity” in Delhi.
Incidentally, the BJP also tried to encash votes by making abrogation to Article 370 a key poll agenda in the recent Assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana but failed to get the desired electoral outcome.
Meanwhile, violence and protests escalated in several parts of Kashmir on Tuesday as an international delegation of European Union (EU) parliamentarians, most of them Right and Far Right-wing groups, visited the Valley. There was a complete shutdown in Srinagar, while incidents of stone-pelting were reported in parts of Valley. Suspected militants also gunned down five non-local labourers in Kulgam, the seventh such attack in recent times.