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[This is a Guest Post by Varun Kannan].


On 31st March, the Ministry of Home Affairs notified the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization (Adaptation of State Laws) Order, 2020 (‘the Adaptation Order’). This executive order has, inter alia, created a new domicile reservation policy for government jobs in the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.

After explaining the procedure adopted for enacting this new domicile reservation policy, I shall raise certain constitutional concerns with respect to this procedure. Specifically with respect to the newly constituted Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, I shall argue that the conversion of the erstwhile State into a Union Territory, coupled with the continued imposition of President’s Rule has given the Centre Government a carte blache to enact such policies without any pre-legislative consultation.

The Adaptation Order and the new domicile policy

Through the Adaptation Order notified by the Union Home Ministry, a total of 127 State laws applicable to the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh have been amended or repealed. The State legislation which has been amended to give effect to the new domicile policy is the Jammu and Kashmir Civil Services (Decentralization and Recruitment) Act, 2010. The Adaptation Order has inserted Section 3A to this Act, which prescribes new eligibility criteria to be deemed as a ‘domicile resident’ of Jammu & Kashmir. The new eligibility criteria inter alia includes requirements such as (i) the person should have resided in Jammu & Kashmir or Ladakh for a mimumum period of 15 years; or ii) the person should have studied for a period of seven years and appeared for Class 10th/12th Board Examinations through an educational institution located in the Union Territory.

After the notification of the Adaptation Order, there was an uproar over the ‘inadequacy’ of the new domicile reservation policy, as it was applicable only to a limited category of government jobs. The Union Home Ministry then notified a Second Adaptation Order on 3rd April, which took into account this stringent criticism and extended the applicability of the new domicile reservation policy to all government posts.

In the Adaptation Order, it is stated that this Order derives legal force by virtue of Section 96 of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act, 2019 (‘the Reorganization Act’). To recall, the Reorganization Act has bifurcated the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir into two separate Union Territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh respectively. This statute was introduced simultaneously with the Presidential Order and the Statutory Resolution which amended Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, on 5th August 2019. To understand the nature and purpose of the Adaptation Order, it is instructive to refer to Section 96 of the Reorganization Act. Section 96 falls under Part XIV of the Reorganization Act, which consists of “Legal and miscellaneous provisions”. It states as follows:

For the purpose of facilitating the application in relation to the successor Union Territories, of any law made before the appointed day, as detailed in Fifth Schedule, the Central Government may, before the expiration of one year from that day, by order, make such adaptations and modifications of the law, whether by way of repeal or amendment, as may be necessary or expedient, and thereupon every such law shall have effect subject to the adaptations and modifications so made until altered, repealed or amended by a competent Legislature or other competent authority. (emphasis supplied).

 

The Fifth Schedule referred to above consists of the Central and State Laws that are applicable in the newly formed Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. One striking aspect of Section 96 is that it confers the Central Government the power to amend or repeal any Central or State law applicable in the Union Territories, if it considers it to be ‘necessary and expedient’. This power is available for a period of one year from the appointed date i.e. the date on which the Reorganization Act came into force, which was fixed as 31st October 2019. Now, such a provision enabling the adaptation and modification of existing laws by the Executive is not unique to this Reorganization Act. A similar provision is also present in the Section 101 of the Andhra Pradesh Reorganization Act, 2014, which confers the appropriate government with similar powers of adaptation and modification.

Now an important question arises with respect to the scope and ambit of the power of ‘adaptation and modification’ conferred by Section 96. The question that arises here is whether the power conferred by Section 96 is limited to making adaptations and modifications solely for purposes of procedural and administrative efficiency, and whether it extends to making policy alterations, such as the new domicile policy.

The scope and ambit of the power of ‘adaptation and modification’.

From a plain reading of Section 96, it is evident that the purpose of this provision is to adapt or modify any law for the purpose of facilitating its application to the successor Union Territories, if the Central Government feels that it is necessary and expedient to do so. This is further qualified by a one-year time limit, which means that adaptations and modifications can be made for a period of one year from the date on which the Reorganization Act has come into force.

The presence of a one-year time limit and the words “for the purpose of facilitating the application in relation to the successor Union Territories, of any law” indicates that such adaptations and modifications made through executive orders can be undertaken only for procedural and administrative matters connected with the bifurcation and the conversion of the erstwhile State into a Union Territory. This also implies that policy changes made through executive orders which are unconnected to this process of facilitating the application of existing laws shall be beyond the ambit of Section 96. This interpretation is also in line with the Supreme Court’s decision in the landmark In Re: The Delhi Laws Act case, where it was held that the Legislature cannot delegate matters of legislative policy to the Executive.

Keeping in mind the wording of Section 96 and the In Re: Delhi Laws Act decision, it can be argued that Section 96 cannot be used to make any substantive policy changes by amending existing laws; and it is restricted to matters of procedure and administration that are necessary for facilitating the smooth application of existing laws to the newly constituted Union Territories. Hence, the question that arises here is whether the Adaptation Order, insofar as it amends an existing law to create a new domicile policy, is ultra vires Section 96, and whether it goes beyond the ambit of the parent statute. At first glance, the answer may appear to be in the affirmative. However, there are other provisions in the Reorganization Act and the Indian Constitution, which may be invoked as possible justifications.

A possible constitutional justification?

To address this issue, it is significant to note that as per the Reorganization Act, the Union Territory of Ladakh does not have a Legislature, and is to be administered by a Lieutenant Governor, acting on behalf of the President. On the other hand, the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir follows a model similar to Pondicherry and Delhi, and is envisaged to have a Legislature and a Council of Ministers headed by the Chief Minister. As the Union Territory of Ladakh does not have a Legislature and is to be administered solely through the Lieutenant Governor, the Adaption Order may be justified by referring to Section 58 of the Reorganization Act, and by invoking Article 240 of the Indian Constitution.

Section 58 makes Article 239 and Article 240 applicable to the Union Territory of Ladakh. Article 240 accordingly states that for Union Territories that fall within the ambit of Article 239 (such as Pondicherry and now Ladakh), any Regulation made by the President which amends or repeals any applicable law shall have the same force as an Act of Parliament. Hence, with respect to the Union Territory of Ladakh, the Adaption Order can be considered as a Regulation made by the President under Article 240, and can be justified on these grounds. However, with respect to the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, the position is significantly different.

Unlike Ladakh, Article 240 is inapplicable to the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. This is by virtue of Section 13 of the Reorganization Act and the proviso to clause (1) of Article 240. Section 13 states that the provisions contained in Article 239A of the Constitution as applicable to Pondicherry shall also be applicable to the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir. Furthermore, the proviso to Article 240(1) states that if a body is created under Article 239A to function as the Legislature for the Union Territories enlisted under Article 239A (which now includes Pondicherry and Jammu and Kashmir), then until the first meeting of the legislature, the President may make Regulations for that Union Territory.

This may be used as a justification by the Central Government in a possible constitutional challenge, as the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir is currently under President’s rule, and no Legislative Assembly has been created after the passage of the Reorganization Act. It may contend that even if the Adaptation Order is ultra vires the ambit of Section 96 of the Reorganization Act, it is saved by Article 239A and the proviso to Article 240(1). Another justification that the Central Government may give is that following the 5th August statutory resolution, the concept of ‘permanent resident’ as given in the Jammu & Kashmir Constitution has ceased to exist.

This is because following the 5th August statutory resolution, the Jammu & Kashmir Constitution (which defined a permanent resident under Article 6) has been done away with. Along with this, even Article 35A of the Indian Constitution, which empowered the State Legislature to define the “permanent residents” of the erstwhile State, was abrogated. This abrogation of the concept of “permanent resident”, it can be argued, has led to a vacuum in the domicile eligibility criteria applicable in the newly constituted Union Territories.

Imposition of President’s rule and conversion into Union Territories: A larger constitutional question

Keeping this possible justification aside, there is a larger constitutional question that we must address here. As the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir is envisaged to have a Legislative Assembly, Article 239A read with the proviso to Article 240(1) permits the issuance or executive orders by the President (i.e. the Central Government) only until the first meeting of the Legislative Assembly, after fresh elections are held. It is pertinent to note here that Jammu & Kashmir was under President’s rule prior to its conversion to a Union Territory, and has continued to remain in President’s rule even after 31st October 2019 (when the Reorganization Act came into force). Article 356 of the Indian Constitution has continued to hold fort in Jammu and Kashmir since 19th December 2018, and there is no information on any proposal to have fresh elections in the near future. The continued imposition of President’s rule and the conversion of the State into two separate Union Territories has given the Central Government a carte blanche to indiscriminately take advantage of the statutory and constitutional provisions referred to above, and rule by executive decree.

The rationale behind the Central Government wanting this unbridled power can be highlighted by referring to the Supreme Court’s decision in NCT of Delhi v. Union of India. In its decision, the Supreme Court held that although Delhi is a Union Territory and akin to a quasi-State, the actions of an elected government and an elected Legislature shall bind the Lieutenant Governor – for all matters that are within its legislative domain. Although this decision was based on an interpretation of Article 239AA of the Constitution, it applies squarely to Jammu & Kashmir – as akin to Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir is envisaged to have a Legislature despite being a Union Territory. This implies that for all matters within its legislative domain, the Legislature of the Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir shall stand supreme, and bind the Lieutenant Governor and Central Government. Hence, if fresh elections had been held and a Legislative Assembly had been constituted, the Home Ministry could not have indiscriminately taken the benefit of 239A, the proviso to Article 240(1), and Section 96 of the Reorganization Act, to bring about radical changes such as the new domicile policy.

As pointed out above, the new domicile policy had been criticized by leaders across political parties, who claim that it is inadequate, and only granted domicile reservation for a limited category of government jobs. Fearing major backlash, the Home Ministry notified another Adaptation Order and amended the law once again, to bring within its ambit all government posts. This is exactly what exacerbates the problem further. If there was an elected Legislature in the first place, such a domicile policy could only have been passed through legislation, after a debate and discussions involving members from across party lines. The conversion to Union Territories coupled with the imposition of President’s rule has prevented any such discussion from taking place, and has granted the Central Government a carte blanche to make policy prescriptions without any pre-legislative consultation process.

While the Home Ministry is free to contend that once there is an elected legislature, the Legislature may further amend or repeal the changes after discussion, this shall only buttress my primary point – that as the presence of a Legislature is envisaged, such legislative policy prescriptions should be left solely within its domain. This only culminates in one common end – which is the need for a greater legal and judicial conversation on whether it is within the spirit of the constitutional framework to indefinitely impose and repeatedly extend President’s rule under Article 356, and rule virtually by executive decree. Until this status quo remains, there shall only be rule by law in Jammu & Kashmir, and not rule of law.