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Petitions against Article 370: May consider referring issue to 7-judge bench later: SC

Press Trust of India

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New Delhi, Dec 12:  The Supreme Court Thursday indicated it may consider the question of referring the issue of challenge to the abrogation of provisions of Article 370, which gave special status to erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, to a larger 7-judge bench after hearing the preliminary submission of all the parties.

The top court’s remarks came after some of the parties, challenging the Centre’s decision of abrogating Article 370 of the Constitution, said there were two conflicting decisions by a 5-judge bench of apex court given in 1959 and 1970.

The provisions were abrogated by the Centre on August 5. “We may consider the question of referring the matter to larger bench only after hearing the preliminary submission of all the parties,” a five-judge bench headed by Justice N V Ramana said.

 

During the hearing, senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for some of the parties against the Centre’s decision, said that court should first hear the parties who are challenging the abrogation and then hear the counsels seeking reference to a larger bench. The bench, also comprising Justices Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, R Subhash Reddy, B R Gavai and Surya Kant, said the question of referring it to 7-judge bench will be considered by it at a later stage after all the parties complete their preliminary submissions.

Senior advocate Raju Ramachandaran, appearing for bureaucrat-turned-politician Shah Faesal, Shehla Rashid and other petitioners resumed his arguments and said that in the scheme of Article 370, while the democratic power is with the State, the executive power is with the Union government. He said that the constituent power of Jammu and Kashmir (expressed through its elected government as concurrence or as a recommendation of the Constituent Assembly) is the central principle observed in all the cases dealt by the apex court on the issue of Article 370.

“Therefore, since it is the State of J&K that has constituent powers over its own constitutional framework as well as a role in determining the constitutional relationship of the State with the Union, it is the State of J&K which can democratically decide how its constituent powers can be exercised in accordance with its Constitution,” he added. Replying to yesterday’s question of the bench, as who could be the competent authority to reconstitute the Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly to take a call on altering the special status of the erstwhile state under Article 370, “it is only the State of J&K that can decide who will be a successor to the Constituent Assembly of the State, who may wield constituent powers in future”.

Ramachandaran said that in the present instance instead of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, it was the union government acting through the President that decided how the constituent power of the Constituent Assembly under Article 370(3) would be exercised – by modifying Article 367(4) in Presidential order. “Therefore, this act of the President is ultra vires his powers under the self-contained code that is Article 370. This part of the challenge thus may not be subsumed under the question of the President’s powers under Article 356,” he said.

Senior advocate Dinesh Dwivedi, appearing for petitioner Prem Shankar Jha, said there are two conflicting judgements given by the five-judge of the apex court in 1959 in Prem Nath Kaul versus Jammu and Kashmir and in 1970 in Sampat Prakash versus Jammu and Kashmir. He sought referring of the matter to the larger 7-judge bench for a definite findings.

The hearing remained inconclusive and would continue on January 21, 2020. On Wednesday, the top court had raised a query as to who could be the competent authority to reconstitute the Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly to take a call on altering the special status of the erstwhile state under Article 370 of the Constitution.

The top court, also raised the point that if the decision rested with people then will it be a case of “referendum, concurrence or consultation”. The petitioners have referred to the constitutional provision and said that only the Constituent Assembly, which represents the will of the people, is empowered to make recommendation to the President on any changes in the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.

Ramachandaran had contended that President could have only abrogated provisions of Article 370 only on recommendation of the Constituent assembly, which represented the will of the people of the state. He had said the two presidential orders issued with regard to abrogation of Article 370 have completely flouted the tenets of basic structure of the Constitution of India.

Earlier, Ramachandaran had argued that the Centre’s decision to abrogate provisions of Article 370 was “unconstitutional” since people of Jammu and Kashmir were “bypassed” and any proposal for altering the constitutional status of the erstwhile state should emanate from the citizens there. A number of petitions have been filed in the matter including that of private individuals, lawyers, activists and political parties and they have also challenged the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act 2019, which splits J&K into two union territories — Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.


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Grassroots democracy:It is raining sops for Panches and Sarpanches in J&K

Mudassir Kuloo

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Srinagar, Jan 17:  From insurance cover to paid holiday, Jammu and Kashmir government has gone all out to open purse strings for Panchayat representatives in the Union Territory.

 At least 35 Sarpanches from the Union Territory are on a 10 day tour of Maharashtra and Gujarat since January 10.

 “We (Sarpanches) are being taken to various cities. We will also get to know how the Panchayati Raj system works there,” said one of the Sarpanches, who is part of the tour. 

 

An official of Rural Development Department said the second leg of tour for Sarpanches would start from January 23. “Centre has directed J&K administration to strengthen the Panchayati Raj system in the Union Territory. Organizing tours is part of providing additional incentives to Sarpanches,” he said.

Similarly, over 40,000 Panchayat members are being brought under the insurance cover in Jammu and Kashmir at par with government employees.

“The demand was raised by a group of Sarpanches and Panches who met Union Home Minister Amit Shah in September last year. Following which, Centre told J&K administration to take all measures in this regard,” the official said.

Sources said J&K administration is finalizing modalities for providing life insurance cover to the Panchayat Raj representatives. “Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam has held several meetings with Financial Commissioner Finance Department and authorities of Rural Development Department. Discussion is going over amount of risk cover and the premium,” sources said.

Sources said once the process is finalized, government would float tenders for engaging insurance company. “Centre believes that insurance cover would provide a sense of security to Panchayat members,” they said.

Filling the political gap, government has also decided to treat Panchayat members and councilors as ‘VIPs’ on Republic Day celebrations in Kashmir.  As per official documents, district development commissioner Srinagar has been directed to prepare a list of invitees.

“Invitees shall include VVIP and VIPs. They include chairperson of BDCs, Panches, Sarpanches and councilors,” the document reads. 

Earlier, leaders of political parties were being invited as VIPs.   Centre, as part of its initiative to empower around 40,000 elected local representatives in J&K, had earlier enhanced the financial powers of Panchayats 10-fold from Rs 10,000 to Rs 1 lakh, and that of block councils from Rs 25,000 to Rs 2.5 lakh.

There are 21 departments including Rural Development, Social Welfare, Health, Education, Power, Horticulture, Fisheries and Agriculture, which come under the administrative control of Panchayat members, the official said.

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Polls to nearly 13,000 gram panchayats likely in Feb

Press Trust of India

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New Delhi, Jan 17: The elections to the nearly 13,000 vacant posts of panch and sarpanch in gram panchayats in Jammu and Kashmir is likely to be held next month and a notification is this regard is expected to be issued on January 25, officials said on Friday.

If the polls take place, it will be the first elections in Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of provisions of Article 370 and bifurcation of the state into union territories in August last year.

The elections to about 13,000 vacant posts of panch and sarpanch in gram panchayats is likely to be held next month and a notification is expected to be issued on January 25, a Home Ministry official said.

 

The entire election process is expected to be over by February end.

The posts were lying vacant since November last year when the elections to the local bodies were held.

Out of Kashmir”s 20,093 panch and sarpanch seats, more than 12,500 seats have remained vacant since then.

The announcement to the polls is likely to come amidst the visit of 36 union ministers to Jammu and Kashmir beginning Saturday.

The 2018 polls to the local bodies had witnessed poor participation with two major regional political parties — the National Conference (NC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) — boycotting it.

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LG reviews Jammu lake project, says admin will expedite works

Press Trust of India

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Jammu, Jan 17: Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Girish Chandra Murmu reviewed the progress of a number of projects in the winter capital of the Union territory on Friday and said the administration will expedite the works.

He visited the market place and tourism reception centre to assess the facilities there. During a visit to the Tawi river bank the L-G was briefed by Ajeet Sahu, the principal secretary of the Irrigation and Flood Control Department, about the progress of its beautification project and the Jammu lake project.

During his visits, Murmu was accompanied by top divisional-level officials and heads of departments.

 

Asserting that the administration was trying to expedite the projects, the L-G said, “We don”t know what had happened in the past, but we will carry it from here and see to it that these are completed.”

In June last year, the Jammu and Kashmir government had cancelled GR Infra Projects Limited”s contract for developing the artificial Tawi lake. The administration is set to release fresh tenders to resume work.

A revised detailed project report was framed, according to which Rs 51.57 crore shall be required to complete the project and Rs 4.97 crore to undo the damage caused due to floods till date, officials said.

The project, launched in 2009 by the Congress-NC government, was marred by delays and missed six deadlines before work came to a standstill in 2018.

As per the project plan, an auto-mechanical barrage would be constructed on the river Tawi, one kilometre downstream of main Tawi bridge. This will help create an artificial lake at Belicharana. The 1,500-metre-long and 600-metre-wide artificial lake, a first-of-its-kind here, will give a new dimension to tourism in Jammu city, officials said.

In phase-II of the project, beautification and embankment works are to be taken up under Tawi River Front Development Project for which an MoU has already been signed by Jammu Development Authority (JDA) with the Sabarmati River Front Development Corporation.

Before beginning the tour Murmu paid obeisance at the famous Raghunath temple in the morning.

SSF guarding LG strengthened with intake of 19 more cops

Press Trust of India

Jammu, Jan 17: The special security force (SSF) guarding Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Girish Chandra Murmu has been strengthened with induction of 19 more police personnel and support staff, officials said.

As per the order issued by Special Secretary, Home Department, Shakeel-Ur-Rehman, 13 personnel including three officers and six police staff have been sent on deputation with the SSF with immediate effect on Thursday.

This step has been done to strengthen the security cover around the L-G, they said adding that the force will now have a total of 80 well-trained officers.

In 2018, the then State Administrative Council (SAC) of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir had approved a bill for setting up the force for providing proximate security to the governor.

The bill, which was later given approval, contains provisions related to the constitution and regulation of a separate security force in the state for providing proximate security to the governor, members of his immediate family and matters connected therewith.

Those posted with the SSF, like their counterparts in the SSG, have commando training.

The legal framework related to constitution and regulation of a separate security force in Jammu and Kashmir for providing proximate security to the chief minister, members of his immediate family and other connected matters is contained in the Jammu and Kashmir Special Security Group (SSG) Act, 2000.

The SSG, which was set up in 1996 after the National Conference president Farooq Abdullah came to power, will continue to provide security to the chief minister and the former CMs.

The SSG at present provides security to four former CMs including Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah of the National Conference, Mehbooba Mufti of the PDP and Ghulam Nabi Azad of the Congress.

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