New Delhi , Aug 31: The Central government on Thursday told the Supreme Court that it is ready for elections in Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir any time now and the decision depends on the Election Commission of India and State Election Commission. The court is hearing a batch of petitions challenging the abrogation of Article 370.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appearing for Centre, told a five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud that the process of updation of the voters' list in Jammu and Kashmir is underway and it will take a month or so to complete.
“Central government is ready for elections any time now,” the Solicitor General told the Constitution bench hearing pleas against abrogation of Article 370.
“To date, updating of voters list was going on, which is substantially over. Some part is remaining, that the Election Commission is doing,” SG told the bench also comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Sanjiv Khanna, BR Gavai and Surya Kant.
The Solicitor General further said that the State Election Commission and the Election Commission of India will take a call together on the time for elections.
He explained that three-tier elections are to be held. For the first time, the three-tier Panchayat Raj system is introduced, SG told the bench. First, elections would be for Panchayats.
Legislative elections in Jammu and Kashmir are likely to be held after Panchayat polls, and municipal polls, said the government.
The Centre also said that it is unable to give a specific timeline for restoring the Statehood status of Jammu and Kashmir but clarified that Union Territory status is temporary.
“I am unable to give an exact time period for complete Statehood while saying Union Territory status is temporary,” the Solicitor General told the bench.
On the last date of the hearing, the top court while observing that “restoration is important” had asked the Centre to give a definite timeline for Statehood and elections in the region.
Centre told the bench today that steps are being taken by the Central government for the Statehood of Jammu and Kashmir and these steps can be taken only if it is a Union Territory.
Developments are taking place for it to become a complete State, he said.
SG explained the various steps taken by the Centre saying terrorist instances have reduced by 45.2 per cent compared from 2018 to 2023 and infiltration reduced by 90 per cent. Law and order issues like stone pelting etc. reduced by 97 per cent. Security persons casualty is reduced by 65 per cent, he said.
Stone pelting instances in 2018 were 1767 cases, it is nil now. Youth has been gainfully employed now and earlier they were misled by secessionist forces. Organised bandhs in 2018 were 52 and now it is nil, the Solicitor General told the bench.
In 2022, 1.8 crore tourists visited and in 2023, one crore tourists have visited, Mehta said.
On the other hand, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for one of the petitioners against abrogation of Article 370, said that the government has 5,000 people under house arrest, section 144 imposed, the internet was shut off, and people could not go to hospitals even.
“Let us not make a mockery of democracy, and not talk about bandhs etc.,” he said.
CJI Chandrachud then clarified that it will deal with the legality of the abrogation of Article 370 on constitutional grounds and that facts relating to election or statehood won't affect that determination.
On the last date of the hearing Centre told the apex court that the status of Jammu and Kashmir as a Union Territory is only temporary and it will be restored to Statehood, however, Ladakh would remain a Union Territory.
The Constitution bench is hearing a batch of petitions challenging the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcating the state into two Union Territories.
On August 5, 2019, the Central government announced the revocation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir granted under Article 370 and split the region into two Union territories (ANI).