SC Asks J&K Govt: How Long Can Mehbooba Be Detained?

Mehbooba Mufti - File Photo

New Delhi- The Supreme Court Tuesday asked the Jammu and Kashmir administration to respond to Iltija Mufti's amended plea challenging the detention of her mother, former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, under the J-K Public Safety Act, saying it cannot go on forever and "some via media" should be explored.

However, the top court refused to permit Mehbooba Mufti to attend to the affairs of her political party and allow people to visit her saying such a blanket prayer would be difficult to countenance .

A bench of Justices S K Kaul and Hrishikesh Roy granted 15 days to the Union Territory to file response and asked as to what was the maximum period for which a person can be detained under the specific law and whether the authorities proposed to continue with the detention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader.

"Find some via media out. Detention can't be forever," the bench observed, while posting the matter for hearing on October 15 after filing of the fresh reply of the UT administration to the amended plea of Iltija.

On the issue of the permission to attend party meetings, the top court, in a hearing conducted through video conferencing here, said that the PDP President should place such a request with the authorities.

The other prayers are qua interim protections to permit detenu to attend to the affairs of the political party and allow visits. Such a blanket prayer would be difficult to countenance, the bench said, adding that as and when a request is made to meet the PDP leader in detention, the same should be promptly considered by the concerned authorities in accordance with law.

The top court took note of the submission of lawyer Nitya Ramakrishnan, appearing for Iltija, that Mufti's daughter and other relatives should be allowed to meet her in detention.

Even people in jails are allowed to meet their families, the lawyer argued.

The bench said the requests for visitation and meetings may be placed before the authorities concerned and allowed.

At the outset of the brief hearing, the bench said that it would like to deal with certain issues as to what can be the maximum period of detention under the law and asked the authorities about the period of detention to which she may be kept.

Referring to the earlier reply of the UT authorities, the bench said that it needed to go through the reply and "will have to see what is to be done".

It directed the replies already filed by J-K administration be placed on record and said that reply to the amended petition be filed in one week and rejoinder in one week thereafter.

The top court, in February this year, had issued notice to the UT authorities on the habeas corpus (bring the person) plea of Iltija challenging the detention of her mother and had sought the response by March 18.

The PDP president was put under detention on the eve of abrogation of special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 on August 5 last year.

In her application, filed in the pending petition, Iltija said it has been filed praying for permission to amend the plea and seeking a writ of habeas corpus.

"The amendment sought is to include grounds of challenge and additional prayers for challenging the orders of confirmation (dated February 26) and subsequent extensions (May 5 and July 31) of the detention order (of Mehbooba) impugned in the writ petition," the application reads.

The writ petition has challenged Mehbooba's detention on several grounds. It contends that the grounds and the dossier for detention are "stale, vague and that they suffer from non-application of mind, malice in law and that they violate the provisions of Section 8(3)(b) of the PSA".

"The detention order based on stale grounds have become staler even more since the petition was filed and the respondent administration has continued to act with total non-application of mind and the malice in law has only been reinforced and aggravated in confirming and extending the order of detention for further periods," it said.

Seeking permission to allow her to amend the section of the writ petition entitled Prayers , Iltija pleaded for issuance of the writ in the nature of habeas corpus commanding the respondents -- the central and Jammu and Kashmir governments -- to produce Mehbooba forthwith before the court for being set at liberty.

Pleading for direction or order quashing the impugned order of detention and subsequent extension orders, the application sought appropriate compensation to Mehbooba for the "illegal detention that she has suffered" and to award costs of the litigation to the petitioner.

"I have challenged her PSA order and the subsequent extensions to ensure her continued detention. Her detention is illegal and questionable in a democracy," Iltija had said, adding "a key opposition leader has been jailed for over a year without recourse to trial."

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