The Supreme Court on Monday urged Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) lieutenant governor (L-G) Manoj Sinha to review the suspension of a lecturer, who argued against the move to nullify Article 370 before a Constitution bench, saying the proximity between his suspension and his appearance before the top court makes the development “suspect”.
The five-judge bench, led by Chief Justice of India Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, asked attorney-general (A-G) R Venkataramani and solicitor-general Tushar Mehta to speak to the L-G and ascertain the reasons behind the suspension of Zahoor Ahmad Bhat, a lecturer of political science, on August 25.
Bhat on August 23 appeared as one of the petitioners in the case raising a legal challenge to the validity of the 2019 nullification of the Constitution’s Article 370 that granted J&K a semi-autonomous status.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal raised the issue of the suspension before the bench, which also comprises justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Sanjiv Khanna, Bhushan R Gavai, and Surya Kant. Sibal said it is “extremely unfair” to act against a person merely for appearing before the Supreme Court and presenting his point of view.
The bench agreed with Sibal and asked Venkataramani to look into the issue. “Learned A-G, please, speak to the L-G and see why this has happened. If there is something else, it is a different matter but somebody who appears before this court and then this happens…Why has this happened in close succession to his appearing here.”
Mehta said he has checked with the J&K officials and the reason to suspend Bhat appears to be something else and not because he argued in the court.
The bench questioned the timing of the action. “Proximity of his appearance before this court in Article 370 matter and the suspension is something which is causing concern. If the reference to his appearance before the court is there in the order of his suspension, there is some problem…The timing appears a little suspect,” it told Mehta.
Mehta conceded the timing was not proper and that he would look into the issue again. The bench asked both the law officers to consult the L-G to review the order of Bhat’s suspension.
On August 25, J&K’s school education department placed Bhat under suspension with immediate effect for violation of provisions of J&K Civil Service Regulations, J&K Government Employees Conduct Rules, and J&K Leave Rules. “During the period of suspension, the delinquent shall remain attached in the office of Director School Education Jammu,” said the suspension order. The L-G office also directed “an in-depth inquiry into the conduct of the delinquent officer”.
Bhat, who has a law degree, appeared in person on August 23 before the Constitution bench, attacking the manner in which the nullification was carried out, and J&K was restructured into two Union Territories.
“The restructuring was done in violation of the morality of [the] Indian constitution…It was against people’s right to democracy as the consent of [the] people of J&K and Ladakh was not taken into consideration. The move was against cooperative federalism and supremacy of the Constitution,” Bhat argued.