RK BureauNew Delhi:
The Government of India (GoI) on Monday avoided taking a stand in the Supreme Court on special status to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 35A of the Indian Constitutions that empowers the state government to frame laws to bar all Indians, except the original inhabitants of the state, from acquiring immovable property anywhere in the state or settling in the state, obtaining jobs under the state government, and availing the state-sponsored scholarship schemes.
Attorney General K K Venugopal showed up before a bench of Chief Justice of India Jagdish Singh Khehar and Justice D Y Chandrachud to state that the Centre did not wish to file its affidavit over the subject, saying the matter is "very sensitive" requiring a "larger debate."
He was pointblank that the Centre won't put its stand in black and white but prepared to argue on the Public Interest Litigation (PIL).
Pointing out the constitutional issues involved, he persuaded the Court to refer the case to a larger Bench of three judges.
The matter could come up after six weeks, the Court said.
Effectively, the reference to a larger bench without specifying a date -- keeping in view the current status of pendency of cases in the top court and the number of judges it has, is going to mean a deferment for an indefinite period.
The PIL, filed by a Delhi-based NGO 'We the citizens,' has sought Article 35A to be declared unconstitutional, contending the President could not have amended the Constitution by the 1954-order and it was supposed to be a temporary provision. The Article was inserted by then President through an administrative order.
The NGO has contended that the J&K government, under the guise of Article 35A and Article 370 which grants special autonomous status to the state, has been discriminating against non-residents who are debarred from buying properties, getting a government job or voting in the local elections.
Defending the provision, the state government filed its affidavit, settled by eminent jurist Fali S Nariman, implying that Article 35 A has become a permanent feature of the Indian Constitution and that the 1954-Presidenial Order granting special rights to permanent residents of the state has been recognised, accepted and acted upon since its enactment and cannot be challenged now.
"The instant petition seeks to upset settled law, accepted and complied with by all," stated the response to the PIL, besides underlining the fact that the challenge to the Presidential Order has come after more than 60 years.
"After this length of time when the provisions enacted in Article 35A of the Constitution have been continuously acted upon and treated as valid, the same ought not to be permitted to be challenged," it said, contending that it would otherwise affect thousands of decisions taken under its provisions.