India's top court reserves judgment on Kashmir autonomy challenge

Petitioners say Modi's move to end special treatment of region was unconstitutional

A Kashmiri man looks from a window of his home in Srinagar in August. EPA
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India’s Supreme Court has reserved its verdict on a legal challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s move to end the disputed Kashmir region's autonomy.

Indian-administered Kashmir – the strife-torn Muslim-majority territory in the Himalayas – enjoyed special powers and limited autonomy under the Indian constitution, which Mr Modi’s government unilaterally scrapped the provision in 2019.

New Delhi further divided the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two federally administered regions on August 5: Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.

The contentious move was challenged in the top court but the case was kept on hold.

India’s Chief Justice Dhananjay Chandrachud announced in July that the court's five-member constitutional bench would hear the case on a day-to-day basis.

After 16 days of arguments by the petitioners and government lawyers, the court reserved its verdict on Tuesday, although the date for the pronouncement of judgment has not been announced.

Nearly 24 politicians and activists petitioned the court against Mr Modi’s decision to unilaterally annul the autonomy of a region that is gripped by a three-decade-long armed movement against New Delhi.

Kashmir, like many princely states in British India, joined the newly formed Indian dominion in 1947 but secured its autonomy in the Indian constitution.

The erstwhile state had a separate constitution and the ability to vet federal laws before their imposition. Only Kashmiris were allowed to permanently settle in the region and own properties.

New Delhi argued that the constitutional provision fuelled separatist sentiments in Kashmir and deprived the region of investment and development.

Mr Modi's shock decision triffered a months-long security and communication clampdown in the region and a diplomatic war between India and Pakistan, which has controlled part of Kashmir since the two countries went to war over the disputed region in 1947.

The petitioners argued that Mr Modi's government acted unconstitutionally in annulling the provision. A clause in Article 370 stated that the legislation could only be amended or scrapped with the consent of Kashmir’s constituent assembly.

Government lawyers defended the move and told the court that it followed the legal procedures.

Updated: September 06, 2023, 12:35 PM