The importance of Article 370

Article 370 of the Constitution is the current bedrock of the constitutional relationship between Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of India. With its abrogation being an avowed policy of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the J&K High Court’s recent observation that the provision has acquired a state of permanence may cause some disquiet in the party and the government. However, >the High Court’s comment should be seen in the limited context in which it was made. Its remark that Article 370 is beyond amendment, repeal or abrogation flows from an analysis of the question whether the section had become inoperative after the State’s Constituent Assembly framed its Constitution, and then the Assembly itself ceased to exist. In fact, the question whether its temporary provisions had acquired permanence was not before the court; nor was the court hearing a challenge to the validity of the Article per se . It was dealing with the validity of reservation in promotions among government employees in J&K. Ultimately, it struck down the provision for quotas in promotions on the ground that clause 4A of Article 16, introduced by the Constitution (77th) Amendment to protect reservation in promotions, was not applicable to J&K. This is because there is no Presidential Order making the new clause applicable to the State. One of the features of Article 370 is that a Constitution amendment becomes applicable to J&K only after the President issues an order. Without the protection of the clause, there is no scope for reservation in promotions, as the Supreme Court had barred such quotas in Indra Sawhney.

In its implications for Article 370, the High Court verdict has not broken any new ground. If anything, it is a reiteration of earlier Supreme Court rulings that Article 370 continues to be operative. It impliedly rules that the President’s power to issue orders, as has been done over the years making several laws and provisions of the Constitution applicable to J&K, remains untrammelled. By reiterating the core requirement that even provisions affording constitutional protection require the use of Article 370 and orders issued under its imprimatur, the court has reaffirmed that importance of the Article and showed how abrogating it will weaken the legal basis for J&K to be part of India, as the accession was linked to its getting special status. Some may find the observation that Article 370 is beyond repeal or abrogation debatable. Parliament’s amending power under Article 368 remains available for such a measure, but it is far wiser for any dispensation to wait for a resolution of the dispute with Pakistan over the entirety of Kashmir’s territory before revisiting the State’s constitutional status. Any premature action on this front may be a needless misadventure.

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Printable version | Sep 17, 2022 7:42:55 am | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/The-importance-of-Article-370/article59784604.ece