The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Election Commission of India to take steps to conduct elections to the Legislative Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir by September 30 next year.
CJI D.Y. Chandrachud said, "This Court is alive to the security concerns in the territory. Direct elections to the Legislative Assemblies, which is one of the paramount features of representative democracy in India cannot be put on hold until statehood is restored."
He added, "We direct that steps shall be taken by the Election Commission of India to conduct elections to the Legislative Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir constituted under Section 14 of the Reorganisation Act by 30 September 2024. Restoration of statehood shall take place at the earliest and as soon as possible."
Pronouncing verdict on a batch of pleas challenging bifurcation of erstwhile state into two union territories (UTs) -- J&K and Ladakh -- post abrogation of Article 370 in 2019, CJI Chandrachud upheld the status of Ladakh as a Union Territory because Article 3(a) read with Explanation I permits forming a Union Territory by separation of a territory from any state.
He added, "In view of the submission made by the Solicitor General that statehood would be restored of Jammu and Kashmir, we do not find it necessary to determine whether the reorganisation of the State of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories of Ladakh and Jammu & Kashmir is permissible under Article 3."
CJI Chandrachud clarified that the question of whether Parliament can extinguish the character of statehood by converting a State into one or more Union Territories in exercise of power under Article 3 is left open.
It may be recalled that the top court earlier had stressed that the erstwhile state cannot be a "Union Territory in permanence", adding that the restoration of democracy was very important.
During the hearing, the Union government had told the Supreme Court that it cannot give any exact timeframe and it would take "some time" for the restoration of statehood in Jammu and Kashmir while reiterating that the union territory status is "temporary".
In relation to Ladakh, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had said that it would continue to remain a Union Territory.