A five-judge Supreme Court Constitution Bench on Tuesday will hear a clutch of petitions challenging the ongoing lockdown in Jammu and Kashmir and other related matters. On Monday, the court had postponed the hearings by a day and said the three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi did not have the time to hear the pleas.

“We don’t have time to hear so many matters,” Gogoi said. “We have a Constitution Bench [Ayodhya dispute] case going on... These petitions will be heard by the Kashmir Bench.”

Justices NV Ramana, Sanjay Kishan Kaul, R Subhash Reddy, Bhushan Gavai and Surya Kant are part of the “Kashmir Bench”. The pleas have challenged the communication blockade in the state, the alleged illegal detention of children, and the impact of restrictions on healthcare. The court will also take up a new petition filed by Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami challenging the validity of the revocation of the state’s special status.

The Supreme Court referred a plea filed by Kashmir Times Executive Editor Anuradha Bhasin and an application by child rights expert Enakshi Ganguly and Shanta Sinha to the Bench. In her affidavit, Anuradha Bhasin claimed that the “information blackhole” in the Kashmir Valley was still continuing. In an additional affidavit on September 4, Bhasin had said that despite the administration’s claims that restrictions were being withdrawn, movement of journalists in Srinagar was being curbed. On August 28, the Supreme Court had asked the Centre and the state administration to respond to the petition within seven days. Earlier, on August 16, the court had said it would like to give the government a little more time to review the situation.

Only four juveniles detained, says official

Child rights activists Ganguly and Sinha have sought clarity about reports of children being illegally detained by security forces. They have alleged that they could not file a plea in the High Court because the shutdown and restrictions on public movement.

On September 20, the Supreme Court assigned Jammu and Kashmir High Court’s Juvenile Justice Committee to inquire into their allegations. The chairperson of the committee, Justice Ali Mohammad Magray, visited the observation home and said only four boys below the age of 18 were detained by the police after the Centre scrapped the special status of the state on August 5, The Hindu reported.

“The 17 detained at the juvenile home before the restrictions were put in place are there for offences like attempt to murder, and rape,” he told the newspaper. “There is no case of any illegal arrest.”

The court on Monday also issued a notice to the Centre on a petition demanding the restoration of high-speed internet services and landline phones across all hospitals and medical facilities in Jammu and Kashmir. The communications blackout was imposed to quell resistance against the Union government’s moves. On Sunday, Union Home Minister Amit Shah had claimed that there were no restrictions in the state. The Bharatiya Janata Party leader added that the lack of a phone connection was not a human rights violation.

The court, meanwhile, on Monday dismissed Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief Vaiko’s petition seeking the release of Jammu and Kashmir National Conference President Farooq Abdullah from detention. In his plea, Vaiko said Abdullah was due to attend a conference on the birth anniversary of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister CN Annadurai in Chennai on September 15 but could not because of his detention. The court said nothing survived in the case, adding that Vaiko can file a fresh plea to challenge Abdullah’s detention.

The Centre has so far argued that the restrictions in the state were based on formidable reasons and had stopped thousands of instances of death, terror and violence.

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