Article 35A of the Indian Constitution is an article that empowers the Jammu and Kashmir state's legislature to define “permanent residents” of the state and provide special rights and privileges to those permanent residents. It was added to the Constitution through a Presidential Order, i.e., The Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order, 1954 - issued by the President of India on 14 May 1954, "in exercise of the powers conferred by" clause (1) of Article 370 of the Constitution, with the concurrence of the Government of the State of Jammu and Kashmir.
Prior to 1947, Jammu and Kashmir was a princely state under the British Paramountcy. The people of the princely states were "state subjects", not British colonial subjects. In the case of Jammu and Kashmir, the political movements in the state in the early 20th century led to the emergence of "hereditary state subject" as a political identity for the State's peoples, and the legal provisions for the recognition of the status were enacted by the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir between 1912 and 1932. The 1927 Hereditary State Subject Order granted to the state subjects the right to government office and the right to land use and ownership, which were not available to non-state subjects.
Following the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to the Indian Union on 26 October 1947, The Maharaja ceded control over defence, external affairs and communications (the 'ceded subjects') to the Government of India . The Article 370 of the Constitution of India and the concomitant Constitutional Order of 1950 formalised this relationship. Discussions for furthering the relationship between the State and the Union continued, culminating in the 1952 Delhi Agreement, whereby the governments of the State and the Union agreed that Indian citizenship would be extended to all the residents of the state but the state would be empowered to legislate over the rights and privileges of the state subjects, who would now be called permanent residents.
The question of citizenship arose obviously. Full citizenship applies there. But our friends from Kashmir were very apprehensive about one or two matters. For a long time past, in the Maharaja's time, there had been laws there preventing any outsider, that is, any person from outside Kashmir, from acquiring or holding land in Kashmir. If I mention it, in the old days the Maharaja was very much afraid of a large number of Englishmen coming and settling down there, because the climate is delectable, and acquiring property. So although most of their rights were taken away from the Maharaja under the British rule, the Maharaja stuck to this that nobody from outside should acquire land there. And that continues. So the present Government of Kashmir is very anxious to preserve that right because they are afraid, and I think rightly afraid, that Kashmir would be overrun by people whose sole qualification might be the possession of too much money and nothing else, who might buy up, and get the delectable places. Now they want to vary the old Maharaja’s laws to liberalise it, but nevertheless to have checks on the acquisition of lands by persons from outside. However, we agree that this should be cleared up. The old state’s subjects definition gave certain privileges regarding this acquisition of land, the services, and other minor things, I think, State scholarships and the rest.
So, we agreed and noted this down: 'The State legislature shall have power to define and regulate the rights and privileges of the permanent residents of the State, more especially in regard to the acquisition of immovable property, appointments to services and like matters. Till then the existing State law should apply.'
Following the adoption of the provisions of the Delhi Agreement by the Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir, the President of India issued The Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order, 1954, through which Indian citizenship was extended to the residents of the state, and simultaneously the Article 35A was inserted into the Indian constitution enabling the State legislature to define the privileges of the permanent residents.
"Saving of laws with respect to permanent residents and their rights. — Notwithstanding anything contained in this Constitution, no existing law in force in the State of Jammu and Kashmir, and no law hereafter enacted by the Legislature of the State:
(a) defining the classes of persons who are, or shall be, permanent residents of the State of Jammu and Kashmir; or
(b) conferring on such permanent residents any special rights and privileges or imposing upon other persons any restrictions as respects—
shall be void on the ground that it is inconsistent with or takes away or abridges any rights conferred on the other citizens of India by any provision of this part."
The Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order, 1954 was issued by President Rajendra Prasad under Article 370, with the advice of the Union Government headed by Jawaharlal Nehru. It was enacted as a subsequent to the '1952 Delhi agreement', reached between Nehru and the then Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Sheikh Abdullah, which dealt with the extension of Indian citizenship to the Jammu and Kashmir "state subjects".
The state is empowered, both in the Instrument of Accession and the Article 370, to decree exceptions to any extension of the Indian Constitution to the state, other than in the matter of ceded subjects. So Article 35A is seen as an exception allowed by the Article 370, clause(1)(d).
The Jammu and Kashmir Constitution, which was adopted on November 17, 1956, defined a Permanent Resident (PR) of the state as a person who was a state subject on May 14, 1954, or who has been a resident of the state for 10 years, and has “lawfully acquired immovable property in the state”. The Jammu and Kashmir state legislature can alter the definition of PR through a law passed with two-thirds majority.
In July 2015, an RSS-backed think-tank called the Jammu & Kashmir Study Centre first came up with the idea to challenge Article 35A in the Supreme Court. A petition was filed in the Delhi High Court against the Article. Later, it was also challenged in the Supreme Court.
The legality issues pointed are:
The main objections raised are:
According to constitutional expert A G Noorani, all the legal arguments against the article are groundless, and are raised with "communal-minded majoritarian" intentions. He refers to the various Articles in the Constitution, that similarly provide special rights to other Indian states like Nagaland (Article 371A) and Mizoram (Article 371G) and notes that there are various provisions in the Indian Constitution which confer "special status" to several other states also, in varying degrees based on historical reasons, and remarks that no objections were raised on them. Since Article 370 was enacted on 26 November 1949 as part of the Constitution of India by the Constituent Assembly of India which was a sovereign body, he remarks, Article 35A "flows inexorably" from it. He recalls the Sheikh Abdullah's report to Kashmir’s Constituent Assembly on 11 August 1952, which said, “it was agreed that the State legislature shall have power to define and regulate the rights and privileges of the permanent residents of the State more especially in regard to acquisition of immovable property, appointments to services and like matters. There are historic reasons which necessitate such constitutional safeguards as for centuries past, the people of the State have been victims of exploitation at the hands of their well-to-do neighbours."
Article 35 A protects the demographic status of the Jammu and Kashmir state in its prescribed constitutional form. Scholar Srinath Raghavan states, Kashmiris are apprehensive that any move to abrogate Article 35A would open the gates for a demographic transformation of the valley, an objective advanced by the Sangh Parivar groups as an ideal solution to the Kashmir issue. He further says that the state's autonomy has been gradually eroded by various governments of Delhi through misuse of the provisions of Article 370, and remarks: "Kashmiris have come to regard the rights of permanent settlement as the only remaining piece of any meaningful autonomy." Former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, while speaking about the issue of West Pakistani refugees, has said, "before we do anything on this, we need to allay genuine fears that there is an attempt to change the demographics of the state.”
"The Parliament has no power to legislate law about the subject's administration of justice, the land & the other immovable properties. [...]
Article 35(A) of the Constitution of India, which has been applied to the State of Jammu and Kashmir, not only recognizes but clarifies the already existing constitutional and legal position and does not extend something new to state of Jammu and Kashmir. This article, on its own, does not give anything new to the State of Jammu and Kashmir. Article 14 of the Constitution of India, as has been made applicable to the State of Jammu and Kashmir, thus, gave equal protection of laws to the State subjects/citizens as a class apart. Similarly, article 19(1)(f) of the Constitution of India, which has been made applicable to the State of Jammu and Kashmir and till date continues to be in force in the State, recognizes the right to own, hold and dispose of property, which right otherwise is inherent in the State subjects/citizens of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, who stand defined in terms of Elans/Orders of His Highness and the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir.
Laws have their own universe. They operate in matter and not in vacuum. The laws are located in time and space. In the State of Jammu and Kashmir, the immovable property of a State subject/citizen, cannot be permitted to be transferred to a non State subject. This legal and constitutional protection is inherent in the State subjects of the State of Jammu and Kashmir and this fundamental and basic inherent right cannot be taken away in view of peculiar and special constitutional position occupied by State of Jammu and Kashmir. Article 35-A is clarificatory provision to clear the issue of constitutional position obtaining in rest of country in contrast to State of Jammu and Kashmir. This provision clears the constitutional relationship between people of rest of country with people of Jammu and Kashmir."
As an amendment to, or modification of, the 1954 order, 41 subsequent Presidential orders have been passed afterwards. According to the report of the State Autonomy Committee, the central government, through these Presidential orders, extended 94 out of 97 entries in the Union List to Jammu and Kashmir, and made applicable to the state 260 out of 395 articles of the Indian Constitution. They have been used to issue provisions and make changes, which include - replacing the elected Sadr-e-Riyasat (President of the State) with a Governor chosen by the Centre; changing the ‘Prime Minister’ of the state to Chief Minister; extending the powers of the Supreme Court and Election Commission to Jammu and Kashmir; and preventing the state Assembly from making any amendment to the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution. Kashmir advocate Zaffar Shah says, Article 35A has been added in the Constitutional Application Order 1954 and by questioning it, the entire Constitutional Application Order will have to be questioned. If the Court rules that Constitutional Application Orders are invalid, such a judgment will have to be made applicable to all the Constitutional Application Orders from 1950 till date. The Constitutional link between the Union and the State will be snapped and the position of the State will be same as it was before constitutional arrangements were worked out. So, if the order of 1954 is snapped, Jammu and Kashmir can, in theory, return to the pre-1954 constitutional arrangement, where the Centre’s powers were restricted to Defence, Foreign Affairs and Communications alone, according to the Instrument of Accession. Zaffar Shah states, it will also affect various provisions of the Constitution of the State and result in Constitutional crisis.
Zaffar Shah adds that the scope and extent of power of the President to apply Constitutional provisions with or without “exceptions” or “modifications” has already been subject matter of the decisions of the Supreme Court of India, and he opines, it is ruled to be co-extensive with the power to amend Constitution and includes the power to enlarge any existing provision or add new provision. He says the only requirement is that it has to be done by the President with “concurrence” of the Government of Jammu and Kashmir.
The major political parties of the Kashmir Valley, NC and PDP have remained in support to the preservation and safeguarding of Article 370 and Article 35A. In defense of Article 35-A, the Jammu and Kashmir state Government in November 2015, prepared a report which read, "though Article 368 has been applied to State of Jammu and Kashmir, that would not curtail power of President under Article 370 to amend any provision of Constitution of India in its application to Jammu and Kashmir”. It termed the PIL against the article as “legally misconceived, untenable and meritless”.
In January 2017, the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti of PDP has commented that anybody raking up Article 370 & Article 35 A repeatedly, is hurting the soul of Kashmir. Vowing to oppose any such move, she said, “There will be no bigger anti-national thing than this because when you weaken this uniqueness of Kashmir through judiciary, then those forces in Kashmir Valley, who want to put an end to the composite culture in Kashmir Valley and want to have people from one community (Muslims) only, with one attire and one way of life, you will only make them successful.” Talking about BJP's opposition to the state's autonomy, she also said, “when the people of BJP talk of Article 370, they talk of technical integration. We have to make them understand that we also want that Jammu and Kashmir should fully integrate with India emotionally, technically." She added that the integration which should have been done "emotionally and psychologically", was not done completely, which is needed, and for it, she said, Article 370 is not an impediment but a bridge which connects the state of Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of India. Previously in 2014, during a similar debate regarding autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir and Article 370, Mehbooba Mufti stated that fiddling with Article 370 could lead to anarchy in the state. She said, such “irresponsible utterances” should be stopped as they could have serious repercussions in Jammu and Kashmir, besides having the potential of spoiling the atmosphere of inclusiveness and peace which the Indian government aims at achieving.
Raghavan has stated that any attempt by Delhi to tamper with the state's autonomy "is bound to result in a massive backlash".