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Art 35 A: SC defers hearing till Jan ’19

New Delhi, Aug 31: The Supreme Court on Friday deferred the hearing on a batch of pleas challenging the constitutional validity of the Article 35A, which gives special status to the residents of Jammu and Kashmir till January next year.

The top court posted the matter for to be listed for hearing in the second week of January 2019.

Both the J&K government and the Centre had sought the postponement of the hearing on petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Article 35A for some time on the ground that panchayat polls were due to be held across the state later this year.

Additional solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Jammu and Kashmir government, said that any debate on Article 35A at this juncture would have an impact on the law and order situation in the valley where elections to over 4500 posts of sarpanch and to 1145 wards are scheduled. If these elections do not take place, then Rs 4,335 crore financial grant would lapse, he said.

He also said that the article, which empowers the Jammu and Kashmir legislature to define “permanent residents” of the state and provide special rights and privileges to them, is gender-discriminatory but urged the court to defer the matter so that elections can be held peacefully.

Attorney general KK Venugopal told the bench that a larger number of paramilitary forces are moving to the state for the purpose of elections, adding that if any sensitive issues come up during this period, then it could lead to law and order situation.

“Let the elections get over and then we can hear it in January or February,” Venugopal submitted.

After hearing the submissions of the state and Centre, the top court said, ”Let the elections take place. We are told there is a law and order problem.”

The Joint Hurriyat leaders had called for a total shutdown in Kashmir on Friday ahead of the Supreme Court hearing.

Article 35A lays down that only permanent residents of J&K shall own immovable property in the state, or get government jobs or scholarships. It empowers the state for bestowing special rights and privileges to the people.

Article 35A has been protecting the culture of the indigenous people of J&K and Ladakh and their rights to own the land in the state.

Article 370 accords special rights and privileges to J&K citizens, including an exemption from constitutional provisions governing other states. It also empowers the state legislative assembly to frame any law without attracting a legal challenge.

Because of the allowance by Article 370, the state of J& K has its own Constitution. Article 35A and 370 were introduced to the Constitution by the founding fathers of the nation.

A non-governmental organisation, ”We the Citizens”, filed a petitioned in the top court in 2014 to abolish the law on the grounds that it was “unconstitutional”.

There are apprehensions, amongst sections of Kashmiris, that if the law is repealed or diluted, outsiders would settle in J&K.