J&K Polls can be Held any Time, Statehood Restoration Will Take Some Time: Centre tells SC
New Delhi: The Centre on Thursday told the Supreme Court that elections can be held in Jammu and Kashmir "anytime from now" with most of the work on the voters' list over, and the decision on specific dates depends on the Election Commission.
Addressing a five-judge bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta also said Jammu and Kashmir's Union territory status is "a temporary thing" and restoration of complete statehood will "take some time".
Mehta told the bench, also comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Sanjiv Khanna, BR Gavai and Surya Kant, that elections in Jammu and Kashmir will be held in three stages -- first panchayat, second municipal polls and third legislative assembly polls.
"The Central government is ready to hold elections anytime from now... It is for the Election Commission of India and Election Commission of State to take the call on which election will take place first and how. The updating process of the voters' list is almost complete and will be completely over in a month," he said.
Discussing the issue of statehood, Mehta said he had already made a statement and that a part was the statement of Home Minister Amit Shah on the floor of Parliament that "UT is a temporary thing in J-K".
"We are dealing with an extremely extraordinary situation," Mehta said.
"The exact time frame for restoration of complete statehood in J-K cannot be given at the moment. It might take some time. Various steps are being taken to restore the status of the state in Jammu and Kashmir."
Terror-related incidents, he said, had gone down by 45.2% when compared to 2018. Infiltration, which was one of the biggest concerns in the erstwhile state, is down by 90.2%, Mehta added.
Citing more data, he said, "Incidents of stone pelting and hartals which were 1,767 in 2018 are now nil. Casualty of security personnel has gone down by 60.9%, organised bandhs, which were coordinated by secessionist groups, have gone down from 52 in 2018 to nil in 2023."
For restoration of statehood, he said several steps are being taken and investments of around Rs 7,000 crore have been promised out of which over Rs 2,000 crore has already been done.
He said several projects are underway and out of the 53 Pradhan Mantri Development Project, 32 have been completed.
"Peace does not merely come by policing," Mehta told the bench, which was recording the figures given by him.
Mehta added that as far as Ladakh is concerned, there are two areas of Leh and Kargil and for Leh, the elections for the Hill Development Council are over but for Kargil it will be held next month.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Jammu and Kashmir National Conference leader Mohd Akbar Lone, objected to the bench recording the figure given by the Central government, saying it should not be taken on record as it will "affect the mind" of the court, which is adjudicating the constitutional issue of Article 370.
CJI Chandrachud assured Sibal that whatever data the Solicitor General has given will not have any bearing on the constitutional issue being adjudicated by the five-judge bench.
"What he has given is in pursuance to the court’s query and what steps the Union of India has taken to restore the electoral democracy. We should be fair to the Solicitor General as he has only given the roadmap," the bench said, adding, "The nature of the development which the government says took place post August 2019, this may not be of relevance to your constitutional challenge and therefore, what they respond to constitutional challenge, that has to be dealt with independently."
Sibal told the bench that even otherwise the petitioners will have to counter these facts being brought on record by the Centre.
"They are saying there were zero hartals. Five thousand people were put under house arrest. How will there be hartals, when you don't allow them to go to hospital. The proceedings of this court are televised and these figures may aid in creating an opinion," he said.
The CJI told Sibal, "These are matters where there can be and should be policy differences but that can't affect the constitutional arguments. We place these facts in the perspective of the roadmap to statehood of J-K. This isn't a justification and cannot be a constitutional challenge".
On August 29, the Centre had told the top court that the Union territory status of Jammu and Kashmir is not a "permanent thing" and that it will make an elaborate statement on the vexatious political issue in the court on August 31.
The five-judge constitution bench, hearing the pleas challenging the abrogation of Article 370, had asked the Centre to set a specific time frame for restoration of electoral democracy in the erstwhile state.
"The Union territory status of Jammu and Kashmir is not a permanent thing. So far as Ladakh is concerned, its UT status is going to remain for some time," Mehta had told the court.
On last Friday, the top court which was hearing Mehta's submissions defending the Centre’s decision to do away with the special status of the former state and its reorganisation had told him, "Democracy is important, although we agree that in view of the national security scenario, reorganisation of the state can be done."
The court, however, said lack of electoral democracy cannot be allowed to go on indefinitely.
"This has to come to an end... give us the specific time frame as to when you will restore actual democracy. We want to record this,” the bench said, and asked Mehta and Attorney General R Venkataramani to seek instructions from the political executive and get back to the court.
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