J&K state laws governing commissions like SHRC have been repealed, SC told

New Delhi, Mar 17 (PTI) The Jammu and Kashmir administration on Friday told the Supreme Court that state laws, which had led to setting up of commissions like human rights committee, have now been repealed and some fresh panels were set up under central statutes after the abrogation of Article 370.

An affidavit to this effect was filed by the Union territory administration before a bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud hearing a PIL alleging non-functional statutory panels in Jammu and Kashmir, including the human rights commission, after the state was made a union territory.

“It is submitted that with the passing of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act, 2019, the statues stated in the third column (state laws which governed various panels of erstwhile state) … have been repealed. In view of the said position, the government of Jammu and Kashmir passed several government orders (GOs) by which sanction was accorded to the winding up of the commissions established under the said repealed statutes,” the affidavit filed by Achal Sethi, Secretary of the Department of Law and Justice of Jammu and Kashmir, said.

During the brief hearing on Friday, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Jammu and Kashmir, told the bench, also comprising justices P S Narasimha and J B Pardiwala, that like other union territories, central panels like National Human Rights Commission and the Central Information Commission (CIC) would cater to Jammu and Kashmir as well.

The bench inquired about whether such panels have evolved any mechanism to ensure access to the citizens belonging to the union territory.

During the pandemic, bodies like CIC started hearing matters relating to the Right to Information Act through virtual mode as well, the law officer said.

The bench, which has now kept the PIL for hearing on March 24, said it would like to know the modalities being evolved for ensuring access of such commissions to the citizens.

Jammu and Kashmir, in its affidavit, termed the PIL “unfounded and misconceived” and sought its dismissal alleging “no cogent grounds have been raised by the petitioner in the present writ petition”.

“The erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir (comprising present day UT of Jammu and Kashmir and UT of Ladakh) before abrogation of Article 370 has established several commissions in exercise of powers under various laws/Acts in force in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir,” it said.

The affidavit listed out details of commissions such as “State Human Rights Commission, State Commission for Protection of Women and Child Rights, State Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, State Information Commission, State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, State Electricity Regulatory Commission and State Accountability Commission” and said that they were functioning under the state laws, now repealed.

It gave details of government orders by which the commissions were wound up.

“It is further submitted that with the passing of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act, 2019, several central laws which were hitherto not applicable to the then state of Jammu and Kashmir are now applicable to the UT of Jammu and Kashmir… further, on account of being a UT, in some cases , the Central government has been vested with the powers to establish commissions for the UT of Jammu and Kashmir,” it said.

The affidavit said in some cases, the central government has already set up commissions for the Union territory under central laws.

It said the State Human Rights Commission is now no more and the central law has been made applicable to Jammu and Kashmir and the “functioning relating to the human rights are to be dealt by the National Human rights Commission”.

On State Commission for Women and Child Rights, the affidavit said, “the Lieutenant Governor of the UT has been pleased to notify the Jammu and Kashmir Commission for Protection of Child Rights and on December 16, 2022, it had constituted the selection committee for making the selection to the post of chairperson and members of the Jammu and Kashmir Commission for Protection Child Rights.”

On the issue of State Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, it said that the Union territory administration has appointed Mohd Iqbal Lone as the commissioner for a period of three years on September 28, 2022.

The central RTI Act has been made applicable to Jammu and Kashmir now, it said, adding that the appeals will now be heard by the Central Information Commission.

“The CIC had even started hearing second appeals over audio calls and also hearing the appeals/complaints through video calls,” it said.

With regard to State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (SCDRC), the affidavit said that the department of consumer affairs of the Centre has issued a notification on November 3, 2020 and has has constituted the SCDRC on April 15, 2022.

It also said the central government has issued an order on June 18, 2020 to constitute a joint electricity regulatory commission for Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.

The State Accountability Commission is now wound up, the affidavit said, adding that the Prevention of Corruption Act has been made applicable to the union territory now and moreover, the Anti-Corruption Bureau is in place to investigate all the cases relating to bribery and corruption in the Union territory.

Earlier, the Centre had told the apex court that the issue of allegedly non-functional statutory panels in Jammu and Kashmir was under consideration.

On November 28 last year, the top court had taken note of the PIL filed by Pune-based lawyer Asim Suhas Sarode, which alleged the statutory panels were not functional in the union territory after the abrogation of Article 370 in the then state, and sought the solicitor general’s assistance to deal with the issues raised.

The bench had asked Sarode to provide a copy of his petition to the law officer.

The PIL said various statutory panels such the State Information Commission, the human rights body and the consumer panel in the Union territory are not working.

Sarode has made the DoPT (Department of Personnel and Training), National Human Rights Commission and the Law Commission of India parties to the PIL.

In August 2019, the Centre bifurcated Jammu and Kashmir into two Union territories and abrogated the provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution which accorded special status to the erstwhile state.

The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on August 5, 2019 and passed the same day. The Lok Sabha cleared it the next day.