Members of JAC

Gangtok: The Joint Action Committee — which observed a state-wide Sikkim Bandh over the “immigrant” row before Supreme Court‘s verdict rectified the contentious issue on Wednesday — has now demanded that Article 371F be returned to its “default setting,” as agreed upon in the May 8, 1975 agreement.

The demand from the JAC challenges the IT exemption given to the old settlers of Sikkim. They are calling upon the Sikkim Legislative Assembly to pass a resolution on February 9 to clearly define the term “Sikkimese” and who falls under it.

Addressing the media at Khas Bhawan, which has served as the control room for the JAC, President Shanta Pradhan stated, “The changes made in Article 371F for granting IT exemption must be the end of amendments to the article. We demand that Article 371F be returned to its default setting as it was in 1975. The government and all legislators must deliberate in the Assembly to define the term ‘Sikkimese’ tomorrow, and then pass a resolution before the judgment is sent to Parliament for amendment. If not, JAC will have to continue its protest.”

Terming the removal of the paragraph mentioning the Sikkimese Nepali community as “immigrants” with the review petition as a “half-battle won,” the JAC stated that defining “Sikkimese” is even more crucial.

JAC executive Passang Sherpa said, “The Supreme Court says they have touched upon the matter of Article 371F, but it has not been discussed. The definition of Sikkimese must now be constituted by the Sikkim Assembly. We have also requested a resolution on the Nepali seat reservation. To give political justice to the majority Sikkimese Nepali community, we have placed these demands to the Chief Minister, who has assured us that the resolution will be passed.”

JAC President expressed gratitude to the Union Government, the state government, political parties, and organizations for supporting the review petition, which has now removed the word “immigrant” and the “foreigner” tag from the Sikkimese Nepali community.

The JAC President stated, “It is a historical moment that it happened in such a short time. The foreigner tag has now been removed. Article 371F was approved by the former King of Sikkim, and it was through his approval that we were declared Sikkimese Subjects. There were only 34-37 families of traders who renounced their Indian identity in 1975 to become Sikkimese. The others did not take the opportunity. Now, to ask for an IT exemption is not justified. Sikkim is facing problems due to influx, which is the root cause of this issue. With a low birth rate and an ever-increasing voter list, the Sikkimese people are losing their identity.”

JAC President emphasized that the JAC has no animosity towards the old settlers and business community in the state.

Pradhan stated, “They were demanding their rights, and we are demanding our rights as Sikkimese. These two concerns should never harm the peace and pride we have as Sikkimese. We are fighting for our survival. The Residential Certificate has been misused and granted to many in the business community, but from 300-400 families, it has now reached over 12,000. This undermines Article 371F and the meaning of Sikkimese.”

Meanwhile, JAC expressed gratitude to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah for treating the immigrant issue as a national priority and making a personal intervention to remove the “foreigners” tag from Sikkimese Nepali.

The Joint Action Committee also thanked BJP President and Legislator DR Thapa for taking the JAC to meet the Home Minister, as well as Bharat Basnet, Vivek Basnet, and RB Subba for fighting a solitary battle in Delhi to file the review petition.

Also Read | 12-hour bandh in Sikkim against ‘immigrant’ row

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