GoI says expert panel to take decision on continuing or withdrawing use of pellet guns
SRINAGAR: The J&K high court on Wednesday asked state government to file a status report about number of people blinded as well as those injured in action by government forces since the unrest across the Kashmir Valley.
The government has been asked to file the status report by Saturday and details to be furnished should also include number of injured presently admitted in hospitals in Valley or outside state.
The directions by a division bench of Chief Justice N Paul Vasanthakumar and Justice Ali Mohammad Magrey followed submissions by advocate Mian Qayoom who at one point in time during the course of his arguments threatened to withdraw the PIL which has been filed by the Bar Association to seek complete ban on the use of lethal pellet guns in the state.
“If your lordship (court) is not inclined to pass any order, we will withdraw this petition. This court is functioning on the faith of people and if people have no faith, then working of this court is of no use,” Qayoom said. “This lecture you can make outside the court,” the bench retorted.
“This is what Supreme Court is saying and it’s not something of my own,” Qayoom replied.
His reply actually followed submissions by Advocate General Jahangir Iqbal Ganie who sought two weeks time to file the response to the PIL filed by the lawyers’ body in the first week of this month.
“This is not a simple matter that court will grant time to the state and your lordship will go on to give them time. When we filed this petition, two hundred people were blinded and thousands others injured. We want to withdraw this petition because this court is not doing anything,” he said and drew court’s attention to an interim application filed by it for direction to the government to stop using pellet guns.
“Your lordship didn’t agree to it and issued notice. We had also prayed that Director SKIMS, principal SKIMS medical college Bemina, Director Health Services Kashmir and medical superintendent SMHS hospital may be asked to file the report about deaths and people injured. This information they could have given to us and to this court. At least we would know as to how many people have been treated and how many discharged without treating them. We should know how many have been sent outside. What happen to them in AIIMS? How many have come back with what kind of treatment given to them,” he said, adding that “we even risk our lives to come here.”
“We understand your difficulties. You cannot withdraw this petition because this in public interest litigation,” the court said and asked the advocate general, the state’s highest law officer, to file status report about “how many people have been injured, how many have lost eye sight, how many are admitted in hospitals and kind of treatment given to them.”
Earlier, as soon as the PIL came up for hearing, advocate general sought time to file the reply “because we have to collect information from all district headquarters and most of the officials are busy in law and order.”
“We are objecting to it and lordship may hear us. Some of the respondents including Union of India have filed response,” senior advocate Zaffar A Shah, who also represents the Bar in the PIL, responded. “When we filed the petition, the number of civilian deaths was 34 and today when I stand before this court, the number has gone to 65. The simple question involved in the PIL is whether this court will intervene and ask the government to stop the use of pellet guns. Granting government time means what? It means ok, you go on to using the pellet guns and till it is convenient to government to file the response till that time people will continue to die. What we are expecting from the court to come up and see what actually is happening on the ground as use of this gun is resulting in death of lot of youth in Kashmir,” he said and brought court’s attention the prayer for banning the pellets.
“That is why we have sought court’s intervention in the matter and it is for the court as to whether it will, in public interest, looking to constitutional obligation, will intervene or not,” he said.
Last time, he said, the court issued notice to government and “more than reasonable, two weeks time was granted to it to file the response. They failed to do that,” he said.
To this, the court said that state’s response was important before passing orders in the PIL.
“The court may grant (state government) six months (to file the response) but the question is what happened during this time. Who will rise to the occasion and it is for court to ask government once they have failed to reply. Nature of this case (PIL) is very important,” he said.
The government of India and the CRPF filed response and sought it dismissal of the PIL, stating that similar petitions were dismissed in 2013 and that the petition was premature because the Indian home ministry has already constituted an expert committee to take a decision regarding “use or withdrawal” of pellet guns and find an alternative to use of the munitions.
“The reply that similar kind of petitions were dismissed earlier is meritless because this court issued notice only after it was satisfied on this point otherwise the petition would have been dismissed there and then,” Shah said, adding that there is no guarantee that pellet gun use will be stopped. “How is my petition premature? We are not concerned about other alternatives but want ban on use of pellets. Other alternative may or may not be there. The court has to judicially review the action of the government,” he said.
“There were two possibilities. One would be to stop using pellet gun till this expert committee submits the report. They don’t do that and go on to shoot the people around. Second would be that the court will say you go and take decision and nothing preventing them from using these pellet guns,” he added.
He said if their intention is to blind people and not kill the people, “I will leave it at that. State is not in picture and the decision on use of pellet guns is to be taken by government of India.”