The Supreme Court Friday put off hearing on petitions challenging Article 35A of the Constitution to January 2019 after the Centre and Centre-ruled Jammu & Kashmir cited law and order issues and sought deferment of proceedings till the local body polls in the state get over in December.
A bench of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud adjourned the hearing to the second week of January 2019.
This was the fourth time that the Centre had sought postponement of the hearing on the matter since it was allocated to a three-judge bench for hearing last year.
Article 35A bars Indian citizens, other than those who are permanent residents of J&K, from seeking employment, settling in the state, acquiring immovable properties or undertaking any trade or business if the state makes any law to that effect.
The Supreme Court is hearing five petitions challenging the provision which was incorporated in the Constitution in 1954 by an order from President Rajendra Prasad on the advice of the Jawaharlal Nehru government. The main petition filed by Delhi-based NGO ‘We the
Citizens’ has been pending since 2014. Subsequently, four more petitions challenging Article 35A were filed and clubbed with the main petition.
The Centre has not filed a counter-affidavit in the matter, saying it consciously decided not to do so since the matters raised are “pure questions of law”.
On Friday, Attorney General K K Venugopal told the bench it is a sensitive issue and that a large number of paramilitary forces are being moved to the state for the local body elections. He requested that the hearing be deferred till after the polls in J&K state since the issue gives rise to strong sentiments and may lead to law and order problems.
Appearing for the J&K administration, Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta too referred to preparations for the local body polls. He said “even debate or discussion on Article 35A will have serious repercussions on law and order”. He said “it’s an important question. No doubt about it”. If the elections are not held as scheduled, it will affect the Finance Commission grant of over Rs 4,000 crore, he said.
The petitioners in the matter opposed the adjournment request and said Article 35A is gender discriminatory. As the debate picked up, CJI Misra questioned the urgency. “The provision was inserted in 1954. You are challenging it 60 years later.”
Senior advocate Ranjit Kumar, who represents one of the petitioners, countered this. He said the question of age restrictions on the entry of women to the Sabarimala shrine is centuries old, but the Supreme Court is examining it in 2018.
Justice Chandrachud said: “We are being told that the situation is sensitive and there could be a law and order problem. The matter can be heard later also.”