Article 35-A: Breath Of Worry In Sigh Of Relief

SC defers hearing by 2 weeks to ‘test the preliminary arguments’ against J&K special status

SRINAGAR — Whether state of J&K was accorded any special status in the Constitution of India will be ‘tested’ by the Supreme Court when it would hear the petitions on the issue on any of the days during week commencing August 27.

“Let these matters be listed in the week commencing 27.08.2018 to test the preliminary arguments of the petitioner,” said Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, heading a two-Bench, on Monday. The matters were actually listed before a 3-member bench also comprising Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud. While Justice D.Y. Chandrachud was on leave, the matters were heard by the two-judge bench and came for hearing before the scheduled time of 2 p.m. on Monday.

The court orally observed that it would consider whether Article 35A, which gives special status to the State and people of Jammu and Kashmir, is violative of the ‘Basic Structure’ of the Constitution.

‘Basic Structure’ is a collective term coined by a 13-judge Bench in the historic Keshavananda Bharati case to include a catena of fundamental rights, including the right to equality, non-discrimination, liberty, life and dignity, enshrined and preserved in the Constitution.

Chief Justice Misra explained that since the issue was being heard by a three-judge Bench and one of them is absent, the case should be adjourned.

 “The challenge to Article 35A is being heard by a three-judge Bench. The Bench will determine whether the case should be referred to a Constitution Bench. Today, as you see, the other judge is absent and so we have to hear the case another day,” he addressed the petitioner lawyers who objected to an adjournment.

One of them even complained that J&K was virtually shut down before every Supreme Court hearing. To this, Chief Justice Misra said the challenge is to a provision, Article 35A, which has been implemented for over 60 years and the petitions were filed only in 2014. The case had progressed to the extent of the question of reference by a three-judge Bench to a Constitution Bench.

The Centre, represented by Attorney General K.K. Venugopal, persisted that the case should be adjourned, as an interlocutor was carrying on dialogues with the State’s stakeholders.

The State of J&K, represented by Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, also sought an adjournment.

One of the main writ petitions was filed by NGO We the Citizens, which challenges the validity of both Article 35A and Article 370. It argues that four representatives from Kashmir were part of the Constituent Assembly involved in the drafting of the Constitution and the State of J&K was never accorded any special status in the Constitution.

Article 370 was only a ‘temporary provision’ to help bring normality to J&K and strengthen democracy in that State. The Constitution makers did not intend Article 370 to be a tool to bring permanent amendments, like Article 35A, in the Constitution.

The petition said Article 35 A was against the “very spirit of oneness of India” as it created a “class within a class of Indian citizens.” Restricting citizens from other States from getting employment or buying property within Jammu and Kashmir was a violation of fundamental rights under Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution.

Article 35A gives the J&K State Legislature a carte blanche to decide the ‘permanent residents’ of the State and grant them special rights and privileges in State public sector jobs, acquisition of property within the State, scholarships and other public aid and welfare programmes. The provision mandates that no act of the State legislature coming under the ambit of Article 35A can be challenged for violating the Indian Constitution or any other law of the land.

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