Justice Teeters as J&K HC at 50% strength, is swamped with pleas

Desperate to face up to the challenge, the HC looks to SC help : Of the nine judges in the J&K High Court, only two judges have been assigned to hear the writs of habeas corpus in the Srinagar wing.


The J & K high court has been over-stretched with more than 250 writs of habeas corpus seeking quashing of preventive detention being filed since August 5. This is the date that the Modi 2.0 government took the controversial decision to abrogate Article 370 and ‘de-mote’ the state of Jammu and Kashmir into three separate Union Territories. This, when the state just a month away from being split into two Union Territories:  both wings of Jammu & Kashmir High Court, overburdened with litigation, are functioning with just nine judges against a sanctioned strength of 17 judges, reports The Indian Express.

Last week, The Hindu had reported that the habeas corpus cases in the J & K High Court shot up to 120 in August and September 2019 respectively, The Hindu also reported that in an interview to the paper, the erstwhile state’s Director General of Police, Dilbar Singh admitted to 800 being detained with as many as 150 being sent to jails out of the state.

Given the unprecedented human rights crisis in the valley, the higher judiciary in the erstwhile state is finding it nearly impossible to cope. Earlier this year, on two different occasions, chief justice of Jammu & Kashmir High Court Gita Mittal had forwarded seven names to the Supreme Court Collegium to fill the vacancies, The Indian Express reports. However, not a single appointment has been made till date.

Ten days ago, the e the Supreme Court, hearing petitions related to the Valley, has sought reports from Justice Mittal on access to justice in the High Court — at one hearing this month, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi called it “a serious matter” and said “if required, I will go personally and check” . However, it is the Collegium is yet to fill the vacancies in the High Court.

The Supreme Court had also directed the Juvenile Justice Committee of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court to look into the allegations of illegal detention of children in Jammu and Kashmir in the wake of abrogation of Article 370, and submit a report before it within a week. Clearly however, the high court is itself under pressure with too few judges!

The orders of the Supreme Court came in relation to a petition that listed serious human rights violations against children in the erstwhile state of J and K, which describe violations of very different kinds, ranging in seriousness from potential loss of life and liberty of the child, to being emotionally and intellectually drawn into the conflict. The petition filed by senior social activist, Enakshy Ganguly of Haq for Child Rights and senior activist, Shanta Sinha who is an anti-child labour activist of international reputation. She is the founder of Mamidipudi Venkatarangaiya Foundation, popularly known as MV Foundation, and is a
Professor in the Department of Political science in Hyderabad Central University.

Of the nine judges in the High Court, only two judges have been assigned to hear the writs of habeas corpus in the Srinagar wing. This when, over the past weeks, a slew of petitions in the high court has led to some relief for victims of preventive detention.

For instance, Justice Ali Mohammad Magrey of Jammu and Kashmir high court’s Srinagar bench last week directed the Agra Central Jail in charge to let the brother-in-law of a detenue meet him. Ishfaq Ahmad Ganie is a resident of Ari Gohal in Jammu and Kashmir’s Akad Mattan and has been detained in the Agra jail. His brother-in-law Sajjad Ahmad Bhat will now be able to meet him.

The detailed Express report reveals that, in March 2019, the High Court Collegium, headed by Justice Mittal, forwarded four names to the Governor and the same was marked to the Supreme Court Collegium, according to the standard procedure — of two advocates from Jammu, Rajnesh Oswal and Rahul Bharti, and two advocates from Srinagar, Moksha Kazmi and Javaid Iqbal Wani. And in July, another set of three names — Registrar General of Jammu & Kashmir High Court Sanjay Dhar and two others from the lower judiciary Vinod Chatterji Koul, and Puneet Gupta — was sent.

While the Supreme Court Collegium is yet to take a final call on the names recommended by the High Court Collegium — the last fresh appointment made to the High Court was on August 7, 2018 when District Judge Rashid Ali Dar and advocate Sindhu Sharma were elevated as permanent judges. Also, in 2018, two judges were transferred to Jammu & Kashmir High Court. But this year, not a single judge has been sent to the High Court. The last transfer was effected on November 19, 2018 when Justice Rajesh Bindal, from the parent High Court of Punjab & Haryana, was transferred.

Currently, excluding Chief Justice Mittal, there are only eight judges for the two wings in Jammu and Srinagar.

Given the shortage of judges, urgent measures are being adopted, as is evident from the official roster of the High Court. In the first half of the day, the Srinagar wing of the High Court has only one division bench comprising Chief Justice Mittal and Justice Rashid Ali Dar; and two single-judge benches — one under Justice Ali Mohammed Magrey and another under Justice Sanjeev Kumar. The division bench hears matters related to criminal appeals, tax matters and PILs. And the two single-judge benches hear criminal and civil writ petitions, including the writs of habeas corpus. In the second half, all four judges sit separately on four single-judge benches.

Similarly, in Jammu, the division bench of Justices Rajesh Bindal and Dhiraj Singh Thakur sits in the first half of the day; and two single-judge benches, under Justice Tashi Rabstan and Justice Sindhu Sharma, sit in the first half of the day. In the second half, all four judges sit separately on four single-judge benches.


Related Articles:

1.  J&K HC directs Agra Central Jail to allow J&K Detenus to meet relatives

2.  SC directs Juvenile Justice Committee of J & K HC to investigate Illegal detention of Children




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