The Supreme Court (SC) proceedings originally meant to hear a petition challenging the use of pellet guns in Kashmir Valley took a different tangent on Friday. Kashmir Unrest
A SC Bench, headed by Chief Justice JS Khehar and comprising Justices DY Chandrachud and Sanjay Kisan Kaul, in a rare intervention, offered to set the stage for talks between the various stakeholders and influential public voices in Kashmir and the Centre. Kashmir Unrest
But it noted that as a “first step forward”, petitioner JKHCBA should persuade these stakeholders to file undertakings in the court that they will abstain from violence. Kashmir Unrest Kashmir Unrest
Suggestions to initiate talks came after the Bench pursued the JKHCBA affidavit, which included photographs of injured children, funeral processions and alleged excesses committed by the Army in the Valley.
“Both sides need to take two steps back and address core issues. You cannot clap without both hands,” Justice Kaul observed. “If you keep throwing stones and close schools, how will talks work out? You first talk. But if you are suggesting secession, nothing will happen. Talks should be within the framework of the Constitution,” Chief Justice Khehar said.
At this point, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said that the government cannot hold talks with separatists. The Centre would “absolutely” not entertain any talks of azadi (freedom) with these (separatist) leaders. He also told the court that it was not its domain to direct or decide whether the government should initiate talks with anybody at a political level.
To this, the Bench said that if there is a feeling that the court has no role and has no jurisdiction, they will close the file at the moment. “If you say that this court has no jurisdiction or under our domain, we will finish this matter right away and dictate the order right away. We have something in mind and we will do it. However, we are just facilitating…want this issue to be resolved,” the CJI said.
At the fag end of the hearing, the Bench, however, observed that the court would involve itself in the matter only if there was a view that it can play a role and there was no jurisdictional issue.
Rohatgi attacked the petitioner’s affidavit, saying even the accession of Jammu and Kashmir was “controversial”. “Our hearts beat for the people of Kashmir. We strongly object to their argument that the entire state is subject to State terrorism. Can they say that the election held recently was rigged?” the Attorney General said.
The Bench sought suggestions from the JKHCBA to stop the violence. The petitioners were taken aback at the turn of events, and submitted that they were merely facilitators and not representatives of the people of Kashmir. Perhaps, the Modi-led government could take a lead from what the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government did, the lawyers’ body suggested. We cannot initiate political dialogue, we can only facilitate, they added.
“How will things happen in Kashmir if the leaders (Hurriyat leaders SA Geelani, Yasin Malik) are under house arrest?” MA Qayoom, representing JKHCBA, said. The stone-pelters are independent, not under any leadership, the lawyers pleading on behalf of the petitioners, added.
At this point, the AG objected and said: “We can’t give any commitment about the talks. It’s just a proxy war. On the one hand, he says he does not vouch for all others, and, on the other hand, he wants withdrawal of security forces.”
“We have not agreed to anything, yet let them (the bar association) go and meet people. They can then come back and suggest something. Let them take the first step,” the Bench said.
The Bench then told the bar association: “You make an undertaking that there will be no agitations for two weeks, then we will direct them (Centre) to keep away security forces from using pellet guns. But the first positive foot forward has to come from you.”
“This is the last opportunity and you have to play an important role. You will have to come forward. If you take a first step, you will be remembered forever in history,” the Bench told the bar association.
Even as the association insisted that there should be a “unilateral declaration of ceasefire,” withdrawal of security forces, revocation of AFSPA and withdrawal of pellet guns, it was reluctant to make promises, saying it could not vouch for the conduct of the people. The Bench did not take too kindly to this submission and said that this was unacceptable. “What kind of talk will happen if you keep agitating and there are stone-pelting incidents? You should first stop these agitations and then talk. If you keep throwing stones, what kind of talk will happen?” the court said.
When the JKHCBA president Mian Abdul Qayoom started levelling allegations that the government doesn’t want talks and was only relying on security forces, the Bench counselled him that if his suggestions are within the contours of the Constitution, the court would assure that the dialogue goes on.