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Act effective from October 31; Centre, J&K govt. given till Nov. 14 to file counters

Fenced off: Jammu and Kashmir has been under lockdown since August 5. Nissar Ahmad The Hindu

A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court on Tuesday did not intervene in the implementation of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, from October 31.

The Act reorganises Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories — Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh. A fresh delimitation process will follow.

The five-judge Bench, led by Justice N.V. Ramana, wound up the hearing shortly after realising that the Central and State governments had not filed any response to the series of petitions challenging the dilution of Article 370, withdrawing the special rights and privileges of the Kashmiri people, and the reorganisation of the State.

Deadline missed

Both the Centre and the State government were issued notices by the court on the main petition filed by advocate M.L. Sharma on August 28. Yet Attorney General K.K. Venugopal, for the Centre, on Tuesday, sought more time to file the replies. And Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for Jammu & Kashmir, followed suit.

The Bench promptly agreed to the requests. It gave them four weeks to file counter-affidavits and scheduled the next date of hearing for November 14 — a fortnight after the Act is implemented.

“A realistic time limit,” Mr. Mehta reacted.

Senior advocate Raju Ramachandran, for some of the petitioners, tried to convince the court in vain that a deferment of the hearing to a date after the implementation of the Act would effectively leave the petitions infructuous.

“In the previous hearing, this court had ordered the government to exchange the pleadings. But now the government is still asking for time. The Act comes into existence from October 31, and this case would be rendered infructuous,” he said.

Again, though the cases were referred to the Constitution Bench on August 28, the Chief Justice of India had set up the Bench only last week.

The petitioners argued that once the delimitation process starts, the effect would be irreversible.

Petitioners ignored

“It is better we wait for them [the Centre and the State] to file their counter-affidavits,” Justice Ramana replied.

The other judges on the Bench were also of the same opinion. Justice S.K. Kaul advised the petitioners: “First let us ensure the pleadings are completed.”

“But we object to the government’s request for more time...,” Mr. Ramachandran insisted.

“How can we hear without their counters?” Justice B.R. Gavai addressed Mr. Ramachandran as Justice Surya Kant, the fifth judge on the Bench, remained silent.

The Bench said that even if the Act came into existence, the court could “turn the clock back” if a judgment is later made in favour of the petitioners.

The Bench made it clear that, if necessary, it would even direct the Centre to produce the relevant documents pertaining to its decision to scrap the special status of Jammu & Kashmir.

100% landlines working, says S-G

Fifty-six days into a lockdown that began on August 5 in Jammu and Kashmir, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta claimed in the Supreme Court on Tuesday that “no restrictions” had been thrust on the Kashmiris and “100% landlines are working”.

At one point when one of the judges on the Bench, Justice B.R. Gavai, asked Mr. Mehta about the state of mobile phone connectivity in the State, the top law officer indicated that mobile phones were a relatively recent phenomenon in Jammu and Kashmir.

“Are there mobile lines working in J&K?” Justice Gavai asked.

“Mobile lines were there in the rest of the country from 1995, but it started in J&K only in 2005... If mobiles start, WhatsApp messages will come from across the border,” Mr. Mehta replied.

Senior lawyer Vrinda Grover, for journalist Anuradha Bhasin, pressed the Bench, led by Justice N.V. Ramana, to focus on the question of why the lockdown was continuing, now for the 56th day.

Senior advocate Meenakshi Arora submitted that “people who come from far-flung districts of Jammu and Kashmir are not able to access medical care in Srinagar... Health schemes, including the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana, is linked to the Internet.” But Mr. Mehta said all these claims about the inability to access health care were “absolutely wrong”. He submitted, “They are being said for something else, which I don’t want to say now.”

Dealing a blow to Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis days before the Assembly election, the Supreme Court on Tuesday directed that he face trial for suppressing information in his 2014 election documents about two forgery and criminal defamation cases pending in a Nagpur court.

A Bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose ordered the trial court to continue with the case against Mr. Fadnavis under Section 125-A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.

The decision came on an appeal filed by Satish Ukey, a lawyer, against a Bombay High Court decision. The High Court had set aside a sessions court go-ahead to try Mr. Fadnavis.

The judgment by Chief Justice Gogoi held that a “contesting candidate is mandated to furnish information concerning the cases in which a competent court has taken cognisance, along with the cases in which charges have been framed.”

SC’s 2018 judgment sparked protests

Correcting an error of judgment, the Supreme Court on Tuesday recalled its March 20, 2018 verdict, which bent the written law to protect persons accused of committing atrocities against the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.

On March 20, a judgment by Justice A.K. Goel (now retired) diluted the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, to grant anticipatory bail to accused persons and directed that the police conduct a preliminary enquiry into whether a complaint under the law is “frivolous or motivated” before registering a case.

Both conditions were not part of the original legislation. Justice Goel had reasoned that members of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes use the 1989 law to lodge false complaints, leading to the arrest of innocent persons.

The March 20 judgment triggered widespread protests and compelled the government to amend the Act to negate the effect of the ruling. It also filed a review petition against the verdict.

In its judgment on the review petition, a Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, M.R. Shah and B.R. Gavai said human failing and not caste is the reason for the filing of false criminal complaints. The court condemned its earlier judgment, saying it was against “basic human dignity” to treat all SC/ST community members as “a liar or crook”.

Rita loved soft drinks and watching TV, say Delhi zoo officials

Rita died due to multiple organ failure.

India’s “oldest” chimpanzee, Rita, 59, died at the Delhi zoo on Tuesday afternoon following multiple organ failure, said zoo officials.

Rita was born at a zoo in Amsterdam in 1960 and was acquired by the National Zoological Park here in 1964. “The animal died on October 1, 2019 at 12.15 p.m. despite our best efforts and the best healthcare management provided to her,” an official statement said.

Since July 27, the chimpanzee was only consuming fruit juices, milk and water. According to her post-mortem, conducted by a panel of veterinary doctors, the cause of her death was “multiple organ failure”. “The tissues of the organs have been sent to IVRI [Indian Veterinary Research Institute] for further examination,” the statement said.

A zoo official said Rita was like a small child. “She would respond when we spoke to her. I used to show her videos on my phone and she was very curious. Later, we put up a television for her and played videos of animals,” said the official, who has been working at the zoo for around seven years.

Zoo curator R.A. Khan said Rita liked “Maaza”, a mango-flavoured soft drink, and they used to give her medicines crushed in different juices.

“She was active when she had a male chimpanzee, Moni, as her partner. After Moni’s death in 2015, Rita was alone in the enclosure and she moved less, but people still wanted to see her,” the zoo official said.

Rita was one of the oldest surviving chimpanzees in India and had also entered the Limca Book of Records, said the statement. Zoo officials said the average lifespan of a chimpanzee is 40-50 years.

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