SC to hear petitions on Article 370 from Aug 2, Centre says affidavit not to be relied upon to argue constitutional issue

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New Delhi, July 11 (IANS): The Supreme Court on Tuesday said that the hearing for a group of petitions challenging the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which removed the special status of the former state of Jammu and Kashmir, will commence on August 2.

The hearing in the case began in December 2019 within four months of the Centre's notification regarding the repeal of Article 370 and the reorganisation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. 

Although the judgment held that the issues raised in the pleas could be decided by a five-judge combination, the matter was not listed until now.

A five-judge bench of Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Sanjiv Khanna, B.R. Gavai, and Surya Kant stated that the matters would be heard consecutively starting from August 2, except for Mondays and Fridays. 

The court was to issue directions on Tuesday to complete the necessary pre-hearing formalities. 

Notably, the Centre had submitted an affidavit on Monday regarding the present status of Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of its special status. 

To which, Justice Kaul said that now the other side will file a rejoinder affidavit and the process will go on.

The Central government's fresh affidavit states that its decision to dilute Article 370 in 2019, revoking the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, has brought unprecedented development, progress, security, and stability to the region. 

The Centre defended its action by highlighting that in the past three years, schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, and other public institutions have been functioning without strikes or disturbances. 

Meanwhile, Justice Kaul asked about the need for additional affidavits in the case, as the issue primarily revolves around the constitutionality of the decisions.

Solicitor General (SG) of India Tushar Mehta, representing the Union government, stated that the latest affidavit merely reflects the current situation of the region and may not require a rejoinder.

CJI Chandrachud clarified that the Union's recent affidavit would not impact the merits of the constitutional matter at hand, stating that it does not pertain to the constitutional question.

Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for some of the petitioners, suggested disregarding the Union's affidavit. 

The SG stated that the latest affidavit would not be relied upon to argue the constitutional issues, and the bench recorded this statement in the order.

The bench directed that all written submissions and compilations be filed by July 27.

On the other hand, Senior Advocate Raju Ramachandran informed the bench that Shah Faesel and Shehla Rashid no longer wished to continue as petitioners and requested their names to be removed from the parties involved.

The bench then granted the request, amending the cause title. 

Senior Advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan suggested changing the cause title to "In Re: Article 370 petitions," which the bench agreed to and issued an order accordingly. 

However, Advocate M.L. Sharma objected to this change, claiming that he filed the first petition and was issued the initial notice. Nonetheless, the bench rejected his objection.

The petitions also contest the J&K Reorganisation Act 2019, which divided J&K into the Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh.

These petitions were scheduled for the first time since March 2, 2020, when another constitution bench ruled against the necessity of referring the matter to a seven-judge bench.