This Article is From Aug 31, 2023

Kapil Sibal, Centre's Lawyer In Heated Argument During Article 370 Hearing

Chief Justice DY Chandrachud played the role of peacemaker, saying, "Constitutional issue will be dealt only with the constitutional angle and not on the basis of the policy decisions."

Kapil Sibal, Centre's Lawyer In Heated Argument During Article 370 Hearing

Article 370 hearings: The court is hearing petitions challenging removal of special status for J&K

New Delhi:

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and senior advocate Kapil Sibal were involved in a high-intensity argument in the Supreme Court today on the 13th day of hearings of petitions challenging the scrapping of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, the restoration of statehood and the holding of an Assembly election.

Mr Mehta, arguing for the government, had informed the court an election could be conducted - a key demand of critics of the centre's J&K policy - at any time and that the decision was in the hands of central and state poll bodies. On a timeline for statehood, Mr Mehta, however, said the government is "unable to give an exact time period for conversion".

The Solicitor General, in his opening remarks for the day, also read out government data to highlight the improved law-and-order situation in J&K and noted there were "52 organised bands in 2018 and now it is nil". This view was strongly opposed by Mr Sibal.

READ | Ready For Jammu And Kashmir Polls Anytime Now, Centre Tells Supreme Court

The senior advocate, who is representing some of the petitioners, took a sarcastic swipe at that remark, asking "how can there be a band of dharna (if) 5,000 people (are) in house arrest Section 144 was imposed". He urged the government not to make a "mockery of democracy".

"5,000 (people) were under house arrest... let us not make a mockery of democracy. Section 144 was imposed and internet was shut off. This court has recognised all of this. People could not even go to hospitals," he told a Constitution bench led by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud.

"So how can there be a bandh or dharna? This court has accepted in a judgment that the internet was closed... and then they are saying that there was no shutdown?" he asked, "How can there be a bandh when people couldn't even go to the hospital?"

An irate Mr Sibal continued to hit out, noting, "The problem is this (the hearing) is being televised and all of this is on record. They make it like, 'look what all government is doing'." 

The Solicitor General countered saying "progress never creates problem".

READ | "No Constitutional Fraud In Scrapping Article 370": Centre To Supreme Court

The Chief Justice played the role of peacemaker in this debate, saying, "Constitutional issue will be dealt only with the constitutional angle and not on the basis of the policy decisions."

"To be fair to the Solicitor General, what he is saying is that the roadmap to full statehood will take some time. J&K as a Union Territory is not a permanent feature (but) there cannot be a timeline. These are the steps they (the government) is taking," he told Mr Sibal.

"But we know these facts cannot be an answer to the constitutional question."

"Right from the beginning of the hearing, we have heard this case in a fair manner... in the spirit of fairness. We request both sides to maintain it at the same level," he urged.

J&K Ready For Polls

In its last hearing on Tuesday, the court had emphasised the need to restore democracy in the former state, which has been without an elected government since June 2018.

READ | When Will You Restore Democracy?" Supreme Court Asks Centre On J&K Issue

After scrapping Article 370 in August 2019, the government had said that it will restore statehood and hold elections at an appropriate time. Union Home Minister Amit Shah made statementts to this effect in Parliament but no deadline has been set for such a move so far.

On Monday the government told the court J&K's present status is not permanent and that statehood will be restored. "It is necessary, for some time, that J&K remains under the Union as a Union Territory... ultimately J&K will become a state (again)," Mr Mehta had said.