New Delhi: The announcement of the Narendra Modi government’s decision in parliament to scrap the exclusive position enjoyed by the state of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the constitution has brought about mixed responses from both political parties and the public at large.
A question arises at this point: Is Jammu and Kashmir the only state to enjoy special powers under the constitution?
While Article 35A granted under Article 370 gave J&K special status, Article 371 was brought in to create special provisions for Maharashtra and Gujarat. Both these Articles have existed from the time the constitution was adopted in 1950.
However, the parliament, under powers granted by Article 368, added a number of constitutional provisions under Article 371 to grant special powers and privileges to as many as nine other states.
Take Article 371A which bestows special powers on Nagaland. The state can have its own administrative and legal mechanisms based on the Naga customary laws, and the right to carry on religious and local social practices. People can have land ownership and the right to transfer land and other resources as per local practices. The provision also grants special powers to the governor to overrule the decision of the chief minister on a law and order situation.
This past January, chief minister Neiphiu Rio, banking on that special status of the state, wrote to the Union home ministry after a cabinet resolution that the Modi government’s decision to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 would not be applicable in Nagaland.
There is also Article 371B, meant for Assam. As per that provision, the president can bestow his powers on the state’s governor to set up a committee of the legislative assembly consisting members of the house elected from the tribal areas of the state. Besides, there is Article 244A, which was inserted into the constitution in 1969, as per which Assam was granted special powers to set up autonomous councils. This is aside from the provisions granted to the tribal states of the Northeast under the sixth schedule of the constitution.
Article 371C was brought in to generate certain special provisions for Manipur. According to that provision, the president has the same right as in the case of Assam to form a committee of tribal MLAs through the governor, aside from granting her the responsibility to submit an annual report to the president in regard to the administration of the hill districts. It is based on this provision that the hill districts have a Hill Area Committee (HAC) comprising elected tribal lawmakers.
Article 371D and E are meant for Andhra Pradesh which grants the president certain special powers over the state government, including ensuring reservation in employment and education.
Article 371F is for Sikkim as per which it became an Indian state in 1975. Though elections to its assembly were to be conducted every four years under this provision, it has already been flouted, leading to filing of a petition in the Sikkim high court early this year.
Article 371G concerns formation of Mizoram as a state in 1986. Like in Nagaland, this constitutional provision provides the people of the border state similar rights over their customary laws, religious freedom, land rights, etc. Effecting any change to this provision would require a resolution of the assembly.
Again, Article 371H is applicable for Arunachal Pradesh, which also grants the governor special powers on the state’s law and order situation. He can overrule the chief minister’s decision on the basis of this provision, like the Nagaland governor can do under Article 371A.
Under Article 371I, the Goa state assembly has special powers to make laws on sale of land, ownership of property.
Article 371J grants special powers to six backward districts of Hyderabad-Karnataka region under which they can establish special development boards, reservation in jobs and education institutions, etc.
It must be underlined that that though constitutional provisions like Article 371 A and 371G clearly state that it would require the nod of the respective state assemblies to effect any alteration to them, Article 370 that grants special powers to J&K also states the same.
However, though a presidential order, the Narendra Modi government has sought to take away that right from the legislators elected by the people of the state. By using its brute majority in the Lok Sabha and engineering a few strategic absence of MPs from the Rajya Sabha besides calculative walkouts and resignations of lawmakers from the opposition camp, the ruling BJP is attempting to pass the abrogation of the special provision provided to J&K in parliament.
This development also makes other states which enjoy special constitutional provisions vulnerable, that were hoping to continue with them on the ground that the state assemblies would have to agree with the Centre’s decision.