The day-long Sixth Session (Part-IV) of the Tenth Assembly of the Sikkim Legislative Assembly today, which was presided over by Speaker, SLA, Arun Upreti, commenced with the proposal of the Government Resolution No. 1 of 2023 regarding statements made in the Judgement of Supreme Court of India in the matter of Association of Old Settlers for the consideration of the House by Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs Department, Kunga Nima Lepcha.
While placing the Government Resolution No. 1 of 2023, Lepcha said that in the year 2013, a Writ Petition (Civil) No. 59 of 2013 was filed by the Association of Old Settlers of Sikkim & Others before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India under Article 32 of the Constitution of India. Subsequently, another group also filed another Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1283 of 2021 before the Apex Court. Both petitions were clubbed together.
The challenge in both petitions was against Section – 10 (26AAA) of the Income Tax Act 1961. The Association of Old Settlers of Sikkim prayed for striking down of Section 10 (26AAA), more particularly the definition of “Sikkimese” in the said provision of the Act on the ground that it excludes Indians who have settled in Sikkim prior to the merger of Sikkim with India on 26 April 1975. Later the petition was amended to limit the prayer for inclusion of “Old Settlers” in the definition of “Sikkimese” as per Section-10 (26AAA) of the Income Tax Act, 1961.
The judgment was pronounced on 13th January 2023. The said judgment, however, missed the correct historical fact of the State of Sikkim’s pre-merger/accession with the Union of India. The background that led Sikkim to become the 22nd State of India needs to be correctly recorded, and the significance of Article 371F of the Constitution of India is found to be missing in the said judgment.
Therefore, such observations in the said judgment were made without considering the historical facts of the State of Sikkim in their actual perspective. Article 371F of the Constitution of India provides for “Special Provisions” with respect to the State of Sikkim. The old laws of Sikkim are protected under Article 371F of the Constitution of India and are, therefore, well within the framework of the Constitution of India.
The merger of the independent monarchical country Sikkim into the Union of India was based on the 8th May 1973 ‘Tripartite Agreement.’ Based on the terms and conditions of the said agreement, Article 371F was inserted in the Constitution of India by way of the Constitution (Thirty-Sixth Amendment) Act, 1975, in order to fulfil the aspiration of three ethnic communities of the State of Sikkim, namely Sikkimese of Lepcha – Bhutia origin and Nepali of Sikkimese origin having domicile of Sikkim, having been registered in Sikkim Subject Register as per the Sikkim Subjects Regulation, 1961. Article 371F itself is a Constitution within the Constitution of India for the Sikkimese people of three ethnic origins covered by the tripartite agreement of 1973.
Therefore, the observations made by the Hon’ble Apex Court in the impugned Judgment with regard to “Nepali of Sikkimese origin” having been wrongly recorded as “Nepali of Foreign Origin” is factually and legally incorrect.
Accordingly, the State government, without any delay, filed review petitions on the 2nd February 2023 before the Hon’ble Apex Court on the above-said background. The State government has always ensured that the sentiments of the people of Sikkim are not hurt in any manner, and the rights of its ethnic groups are always protected under all circumstances. Immediate steps were undertaken to file the review petition, not only addressing the issue of the word referring to “Nepali of Sikkimese origin” as “Foreigners” but also to recognise on record the three ethnic groups of the State of Sikkim as Sikkimese Lepcha Sikkimese Bhutia and Nepali of Sikkimese origin. Further, the term “Sikkimese” is only used for the three ethnic communities of the State of Sikkim, i.e., Sikkimese Lepcha, Sikkimese Bhutia, and Nepali of Sikkimese origin, and no one else.
The State government being responsible, is always duty-bound to safeguard the old laws and the protection guaranteed under Article 371F of the Constitution of India and strives to safeguard the unique Identity, classification, and special status granted to the people of Sikkim as a distinct ethnic community. The State government is also duty-bound to ensure that the definition of “Sikkimese” is not diluted at any cost. Keeping this in mind, the State government has also made prayers in the review petitions that the old settlers cannot be treated at par with those whose names appear in the Sikkim Subject Register.
Therefore, in the above background, the Government Resolution No. 1 of 2023 has been placed before the House for consideration of the following resolutions:
1. Apprise the above issues to the Government of India;
2. Request the Government of India to consider the issues and extend all possible help and support to protect the distinct identity of the Sikkimese people in terms of the Article 371F of the Constitution of India and to ensure that the rights and protection guaranteed to the Sikkimese people are not diluted;
3. Request the Government of India that the definition of “Sikkimese” and the special status/classification provided to the people of Sikkim cannot be diluted;
4. Request the Government of India to acknowledge and maintain that the special status and distinct identity and classification granted to the Sikkimese people are commitments given to the people of Sikkim by the Government of India at the time of the merger of Sikkim with India.
The Resolution was seconded by Minister for Tourism & Civil Aviation, Commerce & Industries, Information & Public Relations, and Printing & Stationeries Departments, B.S. Panth.
Thereafter, discussions on the Government Resolution No.1 of 2023 were taken up in the House, which was participated by MLA’s D.R. Thapa, Ugen T. Gyatso Bhutia, N.K. Subba, K.S. Lepcha, Y.T. Lepcha, Raj Kumari Thapa, Pawan Kumar Chamling, Sonam T. Venchungpa, Farwanti Tamang, Tashi Thendup Bhutia, Pintso Namgyal Lepcha, Sonam Lama, and L.N. Sharma. The Members extended gratitude to the Central and State government and the Supreme Court for upholding the constitutional rights of the Sikkimese populace.
Replying to the points and suggestions put forth by the Members, Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang, said that today’s special session has been called to discuss the recent issue regarding statements made in the Judgement of the Supreme Court of India in the matter of Association of Old Settlers whereby “Sikkimese Nepali” were labelled as “foreigners.”
He said that the State Government had taken swift measures to file a review petition on 2nd February 2023 before the Apex Court, following which the Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the removal of reference to the Sikkimese-Nepalese as “people of foreign origin” from the verdict. He stated that the State government has always respected the sentiments of the people of Sikkim and will always protect the sanctity of the citizens of the State.
Tamang expressed his gratitude to the Central Government, the Joint Action Committee Members, and various associations for their efforts in safeguarding the unique identity, classification, and special status granted to the people of Sikkim as a distinct ethnic community. He welcomed the judgment of the Supreme Court that was taken in favour of the people.
Tamang urged all to rise above party politics and work in tandem for the welfare of the State. He further cautioned the public against political propagandas that disrupt the peace and harmony in the State. He further informed that the State Government has constituted a Committee to examine the government and private websites operating within the State of Sikkim to ensure that any content posted on the said websites does not disturb peace, harmony, and tranquility.
He further enlightened the House that the State government has constituted a committee to look into the ‘applicability’ of the inner line permit (ILP) system in the State. The committee will study the possibility of the implementation of ILP in Sikkim and its impact on other Northeast States. The panel will submit their recommendations based on the findings of their study. The Sikkim panel will also visit Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Nagaland.
In his remarks, Tamang said that the landmark verdict pronounced by the Supreme Court is a significant milestone in the history of Sikkim and took the opportunity to congratulate the people of Sikkim while dedicating the victory to the people of Sikkim. He extended immense gratitude to the Government of India for taking a proactive role in considering the earnest request of the State for taking necessary steps to safeguard the sanctity of Article 371F of the Constitution of India.
The Government Resolution No. 1 of 2023 was then adopted by the House.
In his valedictory remarks, Speaker Arun K. Upreti thanked all the members of the House for maintaining the house decorum and assisting in the smooth proceedings of the Sixth Session (Part-IV) of the Tenth Assembly of SLA.
Members of the House, N.K. Subba and Kunga Nima Lepcha also presented their vote of thanks.
The House was adjourned Sine Die by the Speaker.
via IPR, GOS