The Telegraph reported today that a file from 1954 containing a legal opinion on Article 35-A of the Constitution has gone missing from the high-security vaults of the North Block, which houses the Ministry of Home Affairs in New Delhi.
The file has gone missing at a time when the Supreme Court is getting ready to examine the constitutionality of the provision that accords special rights and privileges to the citizens of the Jammu and Kashmir. The provision was added to the Constitution by a Presidential Order in 1954.
Citing sources, The Telegraph reported that the 63-year-old file contains an opinion by the then Attorney-General, making the case that that it was better to include Article 35-A through a presidential order rather than a constitutional amendment. A Union Home Ministry official told the newspaper that the file probably went missing during the Swachh Bharat campaign between June 22 and 26 in 2015 when several old files were cleared.
"Our employees are frantically searching for the file, which is crucial to the case as we have to convey our stand in the Supreme Court at the next hearing on August 29," the official told the newspaper.
The Home Ministry realized that the file had gone missing after the Attorney General KK Venugopal asked for the 1954 legal opinion in order to prepare his reply to the Supreme Court.
The two pleas challenging Article 35-A are likely to be heard by a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court. The first petition has been filed by a Delhi-based NGO called We the Citizens and second one comes from Charu Wali Khanna, who has also challenged Section 6 of the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution, which deal with the permanent residents' status in J&K.
Meanwhile, the agitation against any change to Article 35-A is growing in Kashmir.
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has criticized "elements in India" who have challenged Article 35-A in the Supreme Court. "The state is crown of India it should remain the crown. Like in the state there are people who want to take us back to pre-independence era, in the country also there are elements who want to create trouble and take us even back to 1947," she said.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and its ideological partners have traditionally opposed Article 35-A.
Citing Home Ministry sources, however, the Telegraph reported that the Centre is unlikely to take stand in the Supreme Court. An official told the newspaper, "It's a procedural matter, and it's up to the Supreme Court to decide. The attorney-general is preparing the reply to be submitted before the court on August 29."
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