By Suchitra Mohanty
NEWDELHI (Reuters) – India’s Supreme Court said on Wednesday it will hear challenges in October to a government order revoking the autonomy of contested Kashmir, and it allowed an opposition politician to visit the region that has been under lockdown for weeks.
India stripped the Muslim-majority region claimed by both India and Pakistan of its special status this month, and also divided Jammu and Kashmir state into two, to the fury of many of its residents.
More than a dozen petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court questioning the legality the action, which the government said was aimed at developing the region at the heart of animosity with Pakistan for decades.
On Wednesday, a panel of judges headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, said the court would hear the petitions starting in the first week of October.
“How the court decides these cases will have a deep bearing on the destiny of democracy in India,” Suhrith Parthasarathy, a Chennai-based lawyer, said in an article for the Hindu newspaper.
The court also ordered the federal government to submit a response within seven days to a plea by Anuradha Bhasin, the editor of the daily Kashmir Times, who has sought a relaxation of a government ban on telephone and internet services in Kashmir since Aug. 5.
Some landline telephone connections that were restored last week. The government has said the restrictions were necessary to maintain law and order, but residents have expressed frustration and anger over the lockdown.
Hundreds of people have been queued up outside a government office in Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar every day to make calls outside the region.
The Supreme Court also allowed Sitaram Yechury, head of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), to visit Kashmir to meet his colleague, Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami, a former lawmaker who is among hundreds of political workers and activists that the government has detained since the crackdown began.
Yechury was turned back from Srinagar airport when he tried to visit his colleague on Aug. 9.
Separatist militants have been battling Indian security forces in Kashmir for years. India accused Pakistan of stoking the insurgency. Pakistan denies doing so.
The nuclear-armed rivals both rule parts of the divided Himalayan region but claim it in full.
The revocation of Kashmir’s special status in the constitution means people there will lose exclusive rights to property, government jobs and colleges places and open them up to all Indians.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi says the reform will open up Kashmir’s economy to the benefit of all.
(Reporting by Suchitra Mohanty in NEWDELHI; Writing by Zeba Siddiqui; Editing by Alasdair Pal, Robert Birsel)