SC asks Centre to restore normalcy in Kashmir; Farooq slapped with PSA

Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah

New Delhi/Srinagar: The Centre and the Jammu and Kashmir administration were on Monday asked by the Supreme Court to restore normalcy in the Valley as early as possible even as former chief minister Farooq Abdullah, under preventive detention since August 5, was slapped with the stringent Public Safety Act (PSA).

As the apex court asked the authorities to keep in mind national interest while taking the necessary steps on a "selective basis", Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said he himself will visit Srinagar, if required, after terming as "very very serious" the allegation that people are finding it very difficult to approach the Jammu and Kashmir High Court. Normal life in Kashmir Valley remained affected on Monday for the 43rd consecutive day.

With the top court taking up multiple pleas on J and K, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the state, told the bench headed by Justice Gogoi that not a single bullet has been fired by security forces after August 5 when Article 370 that granted special status to J and K was revoked and the state bifurcated into two separate union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.

In related developments, state Governor Satya Pal Malik met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi and is believed to have briefed him about the security situation in J and K. Union Home Minister Amit Shah also reviewed the situation amid reports that around 230 terrorists were waiting at terror launch pads in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir(PoK) to enter the country.

The J and K government as well as the Centre should make "every endeavour to restore the normalcy as early as possible", a bench of the apex court said, adding the "restoration will be on a selective basis keeping in mind the national interest".

The CJI-headed bench that comprised justices S A Bobde and S A Nazeer was also told by Attorney General K K Venugopal about the steps taken by authorities to restore normalcy.

It asked Venugopal to file an affidavit indicating the steps taken so far.

When the top court was told about the alleged "shutdown" of mobile and Internet services in the Valley, the bench said these issues could be dealt with by the J and K High Court.

The action against 81-year-old Abdullah, a three-time chief minister and the patron of the National Conference(NC), was condemned by opposition parties.

The preventive detention of the NC chairman, which was an unofficial house arrest till now, was converted as under PSA, officials said, adding he has been booked under the 'public order' provision of the Act under which a person can be kept inside jail from three to six months without a trial.

Abdullah, the Lok Sabha MP from Srinagar, was served the notice of detention under the PSA at 1 AM on Monday and his Gupkar road house declared a jail through a government order, the officials said.

The arrest was effected hours before the Supreme Court was due to hear a petition by MDMK leader Vaiko claiming that Abdullah has been illegally detained in the state. Vaiko sought Abdullah's release so that he could attend an event in Chennai.

Abdullah is the first chief minister from the state to be booked under the PSA.

The PSA has two sections - 'public order' and 'threat to security of the state', the former allowing for detention without trial for six months and the latter for two years.

Abdullah's son and former chief minister Omar Abdullah and another former chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti, as well as several other leaders have also been under preventive detention since August 5.

The NC described the action against Farooq as unfortunate and a matter of shame and said it will mount a legal challenge.

"They have no justification to do that, but if they have booked him (Abdullah) under the PSA, then what can we do. We can only approach the courts. We will take constitutional and legal recourse," senior NC leader Mohammad Akbar Lone told reporters in Srinagar.

Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, also condemned the action.

"I strongly condemn it. The action against a former chief minister and leader of one of the oldest political parties in Kashmir is unfortunate."

Azad, meanwhile, was allowed by the Supreme Court to visit J and K but with a rider he cannot hold any political rally.

The court said he can visit four districts -- Srinagar, Jammu, Baramulla, Anantnag -- to meet people.

Azad, who filed a petition in his personal capacity, said his plea to visit the state was "apolitical".

The apex court termed as "very very serious" the allegation that people are finding it very difficult to approach J and K High Court and requested its Chief Justice to file a report on the matter.

"If you are saying so, we are bound to take serious note of it. Tell us why it is very difficult for people to approach the high court. Is anybody stopping the people from going to high court. It is very very serious," it said.

Senior advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, appearing for two child rights activists, said it is very difficult for people in the state to access the high court there.

"You are saying that you cannot go to the high court. We have called a report from Chief Justice of the high court. If required, I will myself go there," the CJI said, while requesting the Chief Justice of the high court to file a report.

The bench, however, warned that if the allegations are found to be incorrect then the petitioners should be ready to face consequences.