New Delhi: The Supreme Court is set to hear two important cases today.  Ram-Janmabhoomi Babri Masjid land dispute is up for hearing and then there is the one in which the top court will hear a bunch of pleas challenging the constitutional validity of Article 35A which provides special rights and privileges to natives of Jammu and Kashmir.

In the Ayodhya case, 14 appeals have been filed in the apex court against the 2010 Allahabad High Court judgment, delivered in four civil suits, that the 2.77-acre land in Ayodhya is divided equally among the three parties _ the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla. In the second crucial hearing i.e; the one on Article 35A, which would be listed from February 26 to February 28, as many as six petitions, including the lead plea of NGO ‘We The Citizens’, would be taken up, the SC website stated.

Ram-Janmabhoomi Babri Masjid land dispute

A five-judge constitution bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S A Bobde, D Y Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer would hear the matter. Along with the main matters, the constitution bench will also hear the connected issues raised in separate petitions.

On January 29, the Centre had moved the apex court seeking its nod to return the 67-acre undisputed acquired land around the disputed site to the original owners. The 0.313 acre plot, on which the disputed structure stood before it was demolished by ‘kar sevaks’ on December 6, 1992, was within the 2.77-acre disputed premises, the plea filed by the government had said.

The government had then acquired 67.703 acres, including the 2.77-acre plot, through a legislation in 1993. The Ram Janambhoomi Nyas (RJN) is the owner of as much as 42 acres of the acquired non-disputed land.

The Centre’s plea has said that the RJN (a trust to promote construction of Ram Temple) had also sought the return of the excess land acquired to original owners.

A week later, another petition was filed challenging the constitutional validity of a 1993 central law by which the government acquired 67.703 acres of land.

The petition, filed by seven individuals, including two Lucknow-based lawyers claiming to be devotees of Ram Lalla, has contended that Parliament had no legislative competence to acquire land belonging to the state.

The plea has sought the court’s direction restraining the Centre and the Uttar Pradesh government from interfering in “Puja, Darshan and performance of rituals at the places of worship situated within the land admeasuring 67.703 acres acquired under the Act particularly at the land belonging to Shri Ram Janam Bhoomi Nyas, Manas Bhavan, Sankat Mochan Mandir, Ram Janmasthan Temple, Janki Mahal and Katha Mandap”.

Article 35A

Article 35A, which was incorporated in the Constitution by a 1954 Presidential Order, accords special rights and privileges to the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir and bars people from outside the state from acquiring any immovable property in the state. It denies property rights to a woman who marries a person from outside the state. The provision, which leads to such women from the state forfeiting their right over property, also applies to their heirs.

All mainstream politicians in Jammu and Kashmir have come out in defence of Article 35A. Amid intense speculation that the Centre might favour abrogation of Article 35A when the petition challenging its constitutional validity comes up for hearing in the Supreme Court, Kashmiri politicians say any tinkering with it would be “playing with fire”.

The state government has said its stand on Article 35A remains unchanged as it would seek an adjournment in the apex court when the matter comes up for hearing. Rohit Kansal, state government’s spokesman said on Sunday the state had sought an adjournment of the hearing on February 11 and it would do the same when the petition comes up for a hearing now.

The state administration recently requested the Supreme Court to adjourn the hearing on the pleas on various grounds, including that there was no “elected government” in the state.

The Centre and the Jammu and Kashmir administration had said the issue of Article 35A was “very sensitive” and keeping in mind the law and order aspect, the hearing be held in January or March 2019.

Several petitions are scheduled to be heard, including the one filed by NGO ‘We the Citizens’ through lawyer Barun Kumar Sinha. On August 6 last year, the apex court had said a three-judge bench would decide whether the pleas challenging Article 35A should be referred to a five-judge constitution bench for examining the larger issue of alleged violation of the doctrine of the basic structure of the Constitution.

The other petitioners on the matter are West Pakistan Refugees Action Committee Cell 1947, Dr Charu Wali Khanna, Kali Dass, Radhika Gill and Major Ramesh Upadhyay.

On Monday, former J-K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti said that if Article 35A is nullified then nobody would be available to lift the national flag in Kashmir. “Don’t play with fire; don’t fiddle with Article 35A, else you will see what you haven’t seen since 1947, she added.

While addressing National Conference (NC) activists, Omar Abdullah said that any tampering with Article 35A would create an unfavourable situation.

AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi said the NDA government needed to act rationally on Article 35A of the Constitution as it is a sensitive issue. “You repeatedly say that this is Muslim (issue). Even the Hindu of Jammu would not like it. A BJP MLA himself has given a statement against it. (Article) 35A applies to the entire state, not just the Valley,” he added.

Mehbooba went on to warn that altering Article 35A might force the locals to raise some other flag instead of the Tricolour.