New Delhi: Union home secretary Rajiv Mehrishi has confirmed that a crucial file from 1954 that justified the insertion of Article 35-A into the Constitution has gone missing from the high-security vaults of the North Block and the government hopes to find it soon.
The admission comes amid the legal challenge on the constitutional validity of the article, which accords special rights and privileges to the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir.
Speaking exclusively to CNN-News18, Mehrishi though clarified that it was not the file with the legal opinion of the then Attorney General that has gone missing. “The only file which has been misplaced is the one which had the cabinet note that was put up in 1954 for constitutional amendment. We hope to locate it soon,” he said.
The home secretary blamed poor record keeping for the ‘misplacement’ of the file. “We have historically had a very poor record keeping system in government. The best kept files are the ones from the British era but we hope to locate this file very soon,” he said.
He also strongly refuted reports in the media that the key file may have been destroyed during the government’s Swachh Bharat drive. “Weeding is done only and only as per the Secretariat manual and never otherwise. There is no question of destroying such an important role during that exercise,” he said.
The Narendra Modi government had ordered weeding out of unnecessary files in 2014 under the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan.
The Article 35-A file from 1954 is crucial because the Constitution then was amended through a Presidential order and not passed by the Parliament. A challenge to the amendment on grounds of “procedural violations” is pending before the Supreme Court. The apex court has indicated that a five-judge constitution bench may take up the matter.
Political parties in Jammu and Kashmir have strongly spoken out against any move to repeal Article 35-A. J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti has met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Rajnath Singh to warn against any “dilution” of the article.
This constitutional amendment denies non-kashmiris the right to buy property in Jammu and Kashmir as they are not recognised as state subjects. The challenge in the Supreme Court also calls it gender discriminatory since Kashmiri women who marry outside the state, and their children are also denied the right to hold property in Kashmir as per this article.
The amendment to article 35-A does not find any mention in the main text of Indian Constitution books in circulation in the country. Almost all publishers have included the article in the annexure and not the main text of the Constitution, a senior MHA officer pointed out.