Nepalese word was not used in a single instance in our petition: Old Settlers Association on 'immigrant row'

Gangtok: Amid the growing disparity between the old settlers of Sikkim and the Sikkimese Nepali community over the Supreme Court verdict labelling Sikkimese Nepali community to be ‘immigrant and foreigner’, the old settlers of Sikkim have assured ‘best possible solution’ for the removal of ‘certain objectionable words.’

Reacting to the ongoing row over 400 families of Old Settlers being granted an income tax exemption, the Association of Old Settlers of Sikkim (AOSS) on Sunday stated: “We are taking steps from our end for removal of those words and discussing India’s top legal experts on the matter and accordingly will file a petition from our end in the Apex court once again for removal of those words. The best possible solution to the same will be sought from our end. We regret that certain objectionable words have been employed in the judgment.”

The AOSS informed how the case was admitted on January 28, 2013, in the Supreme Court, highlighting how the verdict was given after almost a decade. “As the proceedings began, we were informed that there were words in the petition that hurt the sentiments of our regional brothers and sisters of the Sikkimese Nepali community residing in Sikkim. Immediate steps were taken from our end to amend the petition and we filed an amended petition. The latter submitted petition was shared with all and everyone was happy with our gesture, many thanked us too later on and understood our position,” mentions a press release.

AOSS contended ‘not a single instance of the word Nepalese was used from our end.’

“Since the case proceedings took almost 10 long years, and during this 10 long years on many dates argument happened. There is not a single instance that the word Nepalese was used from our end, special care and instruction were given from end to secure justice by not hurting the sentiments of any community or labelling anyone foreigner,” the press release added.

The judgment was delivered on January 13, 2023, and in the observation part, not the judgment, the court has made remarks which we also regret and made us painful, states the press release.

AOSS general secretary Amar Agarwal stated, “Our organisation member of around 400 families has a history of staying in Sikkim from the pre-merger era and has always stayed peacefully and has contributed to the development of Sikkim. The relation we share with ethnic communities namely Sikkimese Bhutia, Lepcha and Nepali cannot be expressed through words.” 

The AOSS also distanced itself from the involvement of the Additional Advocate General in aiding the organisation. Agarwal has contended, “It is also clarified that Sudesh Joshi neither represented AOSS nor the State of Sikkim before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India when the matter was taken up for final argument on 11th of August 2022. He resigned from AOSS much before becoming Additional Advocate General of Sikkim.”

The Indian Income Tax Act 1961 was applicable in Sikkim with effect from April 1, 2008, vide section 10 of 26 AAA wherein the majority of the Sikkimese population was exempted from paying Income Tax and the term Sikkimese was defined. “We the Old Settlers of Indian origin residing in Sikkim prior to April 26, 1975, were left out from the said definition. 

The previous government in the year 2012 replied to us that there cannot be a political solution to it and we were asked to get a legal opinion on the matter. The same was done and a copy of it was submitted to the then-state government. We received a reply from the then government that the matter has only a legal solution and we filed a petition for granting Income Tax exemption under section 10 of 26AAA of the Indian Income Tax Act of 1961 in the Honourable Supreme Court of India which was admitted on January 28, 2013,” clarified the AOSS.

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