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48-Hour Sikkim Shutdown Over SC’s Sikkimese-Nepalis Observation

Sikkim Democratic Front burns CM Prem Singh Tamang’s effigies as the government files a review petition in the Supreme Court.
48-Hour Sikkim Shutdown Over SC’s Sikkimese-Nepalis Observation

Prem Singh Tamang. Image Courtesy: PTI

Sikkim’s main opposition party Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF), led by Pawan Kumar Chamling, has called for a two-day shutdown starting Saturday despite the Prem Singh Tamang government filing a review petition in the Supreme Court (SC) for rectification of its January 13 observation on the Sikkimese-Nepali community.

The chief minister (CM) has also called for an emergency Assembly session on February 9. After days of protest across Sikkim over the SC observation and protesters setting a seven-day deadline for the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM) government to act, Tamang announced on Twitter on Thursday that the state government had filed the review petition, NDTV reported.

“This is to inform that the Government of Sikkim has filed review petitions before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India for suitably addressing the grievances & sentiments of the people of Sikkim concerning certain observations in the judgment pronounced on 13th January 2023,” Tamang tweeted.

The state’s additional advocate general and the law secretary are “handling the matter in New Delhi with legal experts”, the CM said adding that he would meet Union law minister Kiren Rijiju for “further action”. “I reassure everyone that the matter is being dealt with in all seriousness, and I will do everything possible to protect the rights and dignity of all the Sikkimese people,” he added.

While delivering its verdict on a petition filed by the Association of Old Settlers of Sikkim (AOSS) demanding income tax exemption for old settlers who had settled in Sikkim before its merger with India on April 26, 1975, the SC observed that Sikkimese-Nepalis were people of “foreign origin” and also exempted old settlers of Indian origin from paying income tax.

The top court observed that the benefit of tax exemption provided in Section 10 (26AAA) of the Income Tax Act, 1961, shall be extended to all Indian citizens domiciled in Sikkim on or before its merger.

Under the Sikkim Income Tax Manual, 1948, the SC observed: “All persons engaged in business were subjected to tax irrespective of their origin. Therefore, there was no difference between the original inhabitants of Sikkim, namely, the Bhutia-Lepchas, and the persons of foreign origin settled in Sikkim like the Nepalis or persons of Indian origin who had settled down in Sikkim generations back.”

The petitioners had argued that migrants from other countries or erstwhile kingdoms like “Nepalese migrants”, who “migrated to and settled in Sikkim at the same time or even after migrants/settlers of Indian origin”, were benefiting from Section 10(26AAA) “while arbitrarily excluding settlers of Indian origin such as the petitioners herein”.

The issue has snowballed into a controversy with state health minister Mani Kumar Sharma resigning in protest on Thursday against the Tamang government’s “failure” to respond to the top court’s observation.

“The state government has not taken the sentiments of Sikkimese people seriously. I feel it is not necessary to remain in the state cabinet further,” he said in a letter addressed to the CM.

Subsequently, additional advocate general Sudesh Joshi also resigned after allegations of not briefing the SC adequately about the distinction between Sikkimese-Nepalis and other old settlers.

SDF members burnt Tamang’s effigies in Gangtok on Friday and blamed the SKM government for “trashing” its affidavit on the “immigrant” tag, EastMojo reported.

Proposing that the shutdown, which coincides with the SKM’s 11th foundation day, should be “peaceful and non-violent”, former CM Chamling said, “People should boycott the SKM foundation day. The SKM is celebrating after making the Sikkimese-Nepali community refugees.”

“Not every individual from Sikkim can deliver speeches nor can all of them place their opinions. Due to this, as a collective way of expressing our protest, calling
for a bandh is the appropriate way in a democracy. We are democratically protesting against the Supreme Court verdict that stained the people of Sikkim by mentioning us as foreigners, which is not right,” Chamling added.

The “stain” on the Sikkimese-Nepali community and the “dilution of Sikkimese status has happened during the SKM government”, which has “failed to object in the court when the Sikkimese-Nepalis were being made stateless”, he further added.

Demanding Tamang’s resignation on moral grounds, the SDF said, “They should have addressed the immigrant issue by now, but they are agitated.”

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