Gangtok: Even as Sikkim prepares for simultaneous assembly and Lok Sabha elections on April 11, a resident has filed a petition in the high court questioning the provision of holding polls in the state every five years in “violation” of Article 371F of the constitution, under which Sikkim became a part of India in 1975.
Vivek Anand Basnett, an advocate at the Sikkim high court who refers to himself in the petition as “belonging to the ethnic Nepalese community native to Sikkim”, has also questioned extending suffrage rights to “non-Sikkim subjects, i.e. migrants” against the provisions of the Representation of Sikkim Subjects Act, 1974 and the Government of Sikkim Act 1974 “as preserved by 36th Constitutional Amendment Act, 1975 and the Election Laws (Extension to Sikkim) Act, 1976”.
He has urged the court to declare the assembly elections held in the state from 1979 to 2014 as “void” as they were “conducted in violation of the mandatory constitutional and statutory provisions”.
Hearing the petition on March 16, the high court issued dasti notices (to be served by hand) to the respondents – the Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Law and Justice, Election Commission of India (ECI) and state department of home.
Well-known advocate Mehmood Pracha, who appeared in the court on behalf of the petitioner, told The Wire, “One of the laws in force in Sikkim at the time of its accession was the Representation of the Sikkim Subjects Act, 1974. The said law clearly restricted suffrage rights to Sikkim subjects (as defined in the Sikkim Subjects Regulation, 1961), stipulated a four-year term for the assembly to be constituted under the said law.” He said, “The Act provided that it shall be a 32-member house with the following seat distribution pattern: a) 16 seats for the Sikkimese of Bhutia Lepcha origin out of which one to be reserved for the Sangha; and b) 16 seats for the Sikkimese of Nepali origin out of which one to be reserved for Scheduled Castes.”
Pracha said, “The law was specifically saved and enforced vide Article 371F of the constitution of India and Section 7A of the Representation of Peoples Act, 1950. The correct legal position as such is the assembly elections in Sikkim ought to be conducted in accordance therein.”
Alleging that “dilution of the spirit and precondition of the merger” has been done to benefit the recent immigrants who are not Sikkim subjects, the petitioner appealed to the high court to direct the ECI to hold assembly elections in the state according to the seat distribution system as per Article 371 F and Section 7A of the Representation of the People’s Act.
On April 11, the state will see the country’s longest-serving chief minister Pawan Kumar Chamling – elected under those elections brought under question – seeking another term. Though the Chamling-led Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) has suggested raising the number of assembly seats from 32 to 40 and reserving five of the new seats for the Limboo-Tamang community to the Central government, the Centre hasn’t gone ahead with the proposal. The assembly reservation issue is one of the poll planks for political parties in the coming elections.