Article 370 of the Constitution was meant to integrate princely states into India and Jammu and Kashmir was one of the 62 states that had their constitution at the time, the Centre argued in Supreme Court today. This was the 10th day of hearing in connection with a bunch of petitions that have challenged the scrapping of the Article 370, which gave Jammu and Kashmir its special status.
The constitution of Jammu and Kashmir and the nature of the Article 370 have been two of the key contentious issues which the petitioners have highlighted. The Centre argued that independence of J&K’s constitution and permanence of the Article 370, were both misconceptions.
During the merger of British provinces and princely states with British India in 1939, there were 62 states that had their own constitution, the Centre said. Meanwhile, 286 states were in the process of framing their constitution. Many princely states including Rewa had also appointed many experts for this work, said Solicitor General Tusshar Mehta, who was representing the Centre.
“In such a situation, it is absolutely wrong to say that only Jammu and Kashmir had a special constitution or special status,” he added, giving the example of Manipur, another princely state, in this context.
He also quoted India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who said after the merger of sovereignty with the Government of India, “No Rajwada can maintain a separate army or force. Nor can anyone collect tax etc”.
The Jammu and Kashmir constituent assembly did not want to abrogate Article 370 and instead permitted its continuance, “even though the word ‘temporary’ appears in the marginal notes of Article 370 of the Constitution,” one of the petitioners have argued.
In response, Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, who is heading the five-judge constitution bench, questioned that in view of the self-limiting character of Article 370, whether the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir will be seen as the “over-riding document”.
“Once the Constitution of India came into force, all the states mentioned in Schedule I lost their sovereignty. This is how countries are made. Only the Constitution remained the supreme document conferring sovereignty on the people of India and all other documents were subsumed in it,” Mr Mehta said today.
He then took the court through the Indian Independence Act, 1947, saying that every princely state was allowed to put forward its own terms and conditions in the instruments of accession.
“This was done to create a sense of confidence in the princely states… That you are acceding to the Union but we are giving you the ability to have reservations in your Instrument of Accession. We must also put ourselves at that time — the Union of India wanted these princely states to come within its fold. So we gave them assurance that you can decide today that you will only give certain subjects to the Union,” responded Justice Chandrachud.
The hearing will resume on August 28.