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JEHANGIR ALI | 18 AUGUST, 2015

First Step Against Article 370: Special Rights For J&K Residents Challenged In Supreme Court

A meeting organised by the Jammu and Kashmir Study Centre in Delhi against Article 35A


SRINAGAR: The PDP-BJP coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir is bracing for tough times ahead with the Supreme Court issuing a notice to the state's law department on a petition challenging Article 35 A of the Indian Constitution by an RSS-backed organisation.

"We have received a notice (from the Supreme Court) on the matter and our legal team is preparing a response. The government will prepare a response, keeping in view the special status granted to the state under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution," a senior officer in the state's law department, told The Citizen.

The Delhi-based Jammu & Kashmir Study Centre had filed a petition with the apex court last month, arguing that the Article 35 A debars non-residents of J&K from buying land or property, getting a government job or voting in assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir.

This Centre was set up in 2011 with the purpose of focusing exclusively on the state, with the agenda of bringing it out of its special status. Interestingly at a meeting held by this centre recently it was resolved to move the courts against Article 35A. The said Article is an "outgrowth" powered by Article 370 of the Constitution, which gives the border state special status. Article 35A allows the state to grant special privileges and rights to its permanent residents. The Centre claims to be ‘independent’ but is popularly known to have RSS support and backing.

The petition, which is coming up for hearing in the apex court, claims that the article was incorporated "illegally" in the Indian Constitution through a Presidential Order on May 14, 1954, bypassing Parliament.

However, the move is likely to spark a fresh controversy for the embattled chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed who has been facing accusations of ‘selling out’ to the right wing BJP for power.

The petition is the BJP's strategy of doing away with the Article 370, a promise made by the party in its election manifesto for assembly elections in J&K last year.

"The Sangh Parivar's legal challenge to Article 35A is the centrepiece in the larger battle against Article 370. Article 35A is at the root of the 'regime of rights violations' in the state," a JKSC member said.

However, the Hurriyat as well as civil society groups have warned that any move to revoke the Article 370 or Article 35A will evoke sharp reaction from the public which will prove "disastrous" for the government.

"The RSS government led by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed wants to erode the special status of J&K. We will resist any such move and if need arises, a joint strategy will be chalked out to deal with the issue," Ayaz Akbar, the spokesperson of veteran Hurriyat leader, Syed Ali Geelani's Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, said.

The petition filed in the apex court says that several fundamental rights incorporated in the Indian Constitution including the Right to Education and Right to Information have been denied to non-residents, because of Article 35A.

"It has long been mythically believed that Article 370 confers special status on the state. Article 370 was only a temporary provision. It is Article 35A that creates special categories with special rights," the JKSC member said.

The opposition National Conference too has asked the government to oppose any move aimed at "weakening" the special status of J&K. In a statement the party said: "With respect to the August 17 hearing, the people of J&K want to know what is the state government's response, and what will be their legal plan of action apart from ceremonial newspaper statements?"

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