November 2001 News

J&K Govt. wins legal battle on Resettlement Bill

15 November 2001
The Hindu
Shujaat Bukhari

SRINAGAR : The Farooq Abdullah Government has finally won a long-drawn legal battle over Resettlement (of J&K state subjects who left the State before 1954 and are now living in Pakistan) Bill passed by the State legislature in 1982 The Supreme Court has returned the Bill unanswered after 18 years, thus accepting the Legislature''s competence to pass it The then President, Giani Zail Singh, had sought the apex court''s opinion on the Bill . Seen as a ''shot in the arm'' for the National Conference ahead of the Assembly election due next year, the final order on the Bill came on November 8, in which the Constitution Bench headed by the just-retired Chief Justice of India, Dr. A.S. Anand, said ''we respectfully return it unanswered''. With Mr. Justice Syed Shah Qadri, Mr. Justice N. Santosh Hegde, Mr. Justice S.N. Variava and Mr. Justice Shivraj V. Patil, as members, the Bench ordered ''under the provisions of Article 143, this court may respectfully decline to express its advisory opinion, if it is satisfied that it is not appropriate to do so, having regard to the nature of the questions forwarded to it and having regard to other relevant facts and circumstances. Having regard to the facts that the Bill became an Act as far back in 1982, it appears to us inexpedient to answer the question posed to us in the reference. Even if we were to answer the question in the affirmative, we would be unable to strike down the Act in this proceeding. We think, therefore, that the reference must be, respectfully, returned unanswered''. Even as the Bill itself had raised a storm at its time, the National Conference Government believes that it stands vindicated as for as the competence of the Legislature to pass such a law is concerned. ''There has been delay in passing an order, but better late than never,'' said the NC stalwart and Education Minister, Mr. Mohammad Shafi. He is sore over what he calls the issue being blown out of proportion. All those who have commented negative on the orders should respect the Supreme Court verdict. Mr. Shafi also disagreed with the view that his party would draw any political mileage out of it. However, the State Government is thinking of announcing a competent authority that will be responsible for the process of resettlement. The Minister of State of Law, Mr. Mushtaq Lone, said ''the Government will appoint a competent authority in terms of clause (a) of section (1) of the Act for conduct of inquiry with respect to the applications for permit received from any person who fulfills the eligibility laid down under its section 3''. The former Union Law Minister, Mr. Ram Jethmalani, and the State Advocate General, Mr. Mohammas Aslam Goni, pleaded for the State in the last hearing. The law seeks the resettlement of ''desiring persons'' who were valid state subjects before May 14, 1954 and who had migrated after March 1, 1947 ''to the territory now in Pakistan''. The Bill was introduced in the State Assembly on March 8, 1980 (during the time the late Sheikh Abdullah was chief minister) by NC leader, Mr. A.R. Rather (now Finance Minister) as a private member''s Bill to ''settle a human issue''. Despite the stiff opposition from the Centre when Indira Gandhi was in power, both the Houses of the Legislature passed it in April 1982 with Dr. Farooq Abdullah as Chief Minister and sent to the then Governor, B.K. Nehru, for his assent. He, however, returned it for reconsideration. A presidential reference was made to the Supreme Court seeking the opinion ''as to whether the Bill or any of the provisions thereof, if enacted would be constitutionally invalid''. However, after both the Houses passed it, the Governor was left with no option but to give his assent on October 6, 1982. Thus, says the Supreme Court order ''the Bill became an Act''.


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