The Supreme Court on Monday directed the centre’s top law officer to speak to J&K Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha and find out why a lecturer in the union territory’s Education Department was suspended days after he appeared in court to argue against the scrapping of Article 370. The court wanted to know if the suspension was linked to the lecturer’s appearance before the court and indicated it would take a dim view if this was the case, suggesting it might be seen as “retribution”.
On Wednesday last week, Zahoor Ahmad Bhat – a senior political science lecturer with a law degree – appeared before a five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud.
Two days later, on Friday, the J&K Education Department issued an order suspending Mr Bhat, with immediate effect, for violating provisions of the Jammu & Kashmir Civil Service Regulations, the Jammu & Kashmir Government Employees Conduct Rules and the Jammu and Kashmir Leave Rules.
The order, issued by the Education Department’s Principal Secretary, said, “During the period of suspension, delinquent shall remain attached in the office of Directorate of School Education Jammu.”
The suspension was brought to the court’s notice by senior lawyer Kapil Sibal, who said “the academic who came here and argued for a few minutes… was suspended on August 25. He took leave for two days, went back and was suspended.”
After which the Chief Justice asked Attorney General R Venkataramani to look into the issue. “Mr AG, just see what has happened. Someone who appears in this court is suspended now… talk to the Lieutenant Governor.”
“If there is something else, then it is different. But why such close succession to him appearing and then getting suspended?” he asked. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the suspension was related to other issues but, after Justice SK Kaul pointed to the timing, he admitted it “was not definitely proper”.
However, to this Mr Sibal pointed out Mr Bhat’s suspension should, then, have been ordered earlier.
Justice BR Gavai said government action may be a retribution. “What happens to so much freedom then… if it has happened due to appearance here then it is indeed retribution,” he said.
Mr Bhat had appeared for himself and argued for five minutes. He told the court teaching Indian politics to students in Jammu and Kashmir had become more difficult since August 2019 – when the centre revoked Article 370 – as students ask him, ‘Are we are still a democracy?'”
Mr Bhat had argued that J&K had lost special status and been split into two union territories “in violation of the morality of Indian constitution. The move was against cooperate federalism and supremacy of the Constitution.”