SUPREME COURT on Tuesday asked the centre and J&K government how long it wished to keep the former J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti in custody. The observation was made while hearing the petition of Mehbooba’s daughter Iltija Mufti that challenges the former Chief Minister’s detention under the stringent Public Safety Act (PSA). Mehbooba along with other political leaders was taken into custody on August 5, 2019 when the centre repealed Article 370 that granted J&K autonomy under India’s constitution. But while other leaders including Dr Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar Abdullah, both former J&K Chief Ministers, have since been released, Mehbooba not only continues to be under detention but has also the PSA slapped against her to perpetuate her incarceration.
Supreme Court has asked the government that prima facie it had “exceeded the maximum period of detention” for Mehbooba. However, the reality is that there is still no indication that Mehbooba is going to be released anytime soon. Her release will depend on how the court disposes of the case in a future hearing.
Besides political leaders, there were civil society activists and hundreds of youth who were part of over 13000 detentions made in the wake of August 5 move. A large number of them have since been released. But many who have not been have also filed their petitions with the courts. Their cases are yet to be disposed of leading the High Court Bar Association to raise this issue in a letter written in June to Chief Justice of India S A Bobde.
According to Bar Association, 99 per cent of the habeas corpus petitions filed with the J&K High Court since the scrapping of Article 370 in August last year have remained pending. The letter reveals that “since 6th of August, 2019, more than 600 habeas corpus petitions have been filed before the Hon’ble High Court of Union Territory of J&K at Srinagar and till date not even 1 per cent of such cases have been decided”. The bar association has also said that it had approached High Court Chief Justice Gita Mittal with their concerns, but no concrete steps were taken.
The past year, however, has been tough on both the people and the institutions of J&K. Due to a stringent security lockdown and snapping of all means of communications, even High Court could not function properly. Things became worse when post-Article 370 lockdown was followed by Covid-19 lockdown that brought the economy and the government to a stop. But with economy incrementally re-opening, things can be hoped to get back to normal in near future. There is hope that not only the habeas corpus petitions in the High Court will be disposed of soon but there will also be a decision on Mehbooba’s continued detention.
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