Sikkimese-Nepali Conflict: MHA Files Review Plea In SC On Its Observation Of “Foreign Origin”

Sikkimese-Nepali Conflict

The Ministry of home affairs has filed a review petition in the Supreme Court against some of its observations in January 13, 2023  judgment, particularly where it has referred to Sikkimese-Nepalis as “persons of foreign origin”.

It is to be noted that the Nepalis, Lepchas, Bhutias, and Sherpas are Sikkim’s four dominant ethnic groups. However, some 500 households, mostly Marwaris and residents of a few other states, requested exemption from paying income tax on the grounds that they had moved to Sikkim before 1946. Over 95% of the state’s population is made up of the other ethnic communities, who are free from the tax.

On January 13, the Supreme Court delivered its judgement in the 2013 Association of Old Settlers of Sikkim vs. Union of India case, in which the state government is a party. With the government not objecting, the court ruled in favour of the old settlers, exempting them from paying income tax and calling the differentiation made between them and the other communities “discriminatory”.

The court stated in its judgement, “In 1948, the Ruler of Sikkim promulgated the Sikkim Income Tax Manual, 1948 (SITM)” (the Chogyal). Under the SITM, all persons engaged in business, regardless of nationality, were subject to taxation. As a result, no distinction was made between the original inhabitants of Sikkim, namely the Bhutia-Lepchas, and persons of foreign origin settled in Sikkim, such as Nepalis or persons of Indian origin who had settled in Sikkim generations ago.”

Though the Sikkimese civil society has not opposed the court’s decision, it has expressed concern about the “use of the foreigner tag” for the Sikkimese-Nepali community.

The Supreme Court’s remarks sparked widespread protests against the state government led by the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM).

Opposition parties, including former Chief Minister Pawan Chamling’s Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF), and Sikkim’s civil society have been protesting the “language” and “use of the foreigner tag” in the Supreme Court verdict for the Sikkimese Nepali community.

Last week, Sikkim Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang tweeted that his government would file a review petition in the Supreme Court to have the specific passage using “this language” removed.

Tamang said he had spoken to Law Minister Kiren Rijiju who extended support to the Sikkim government.

With the protests continuing and reports of violence and protesters burning Tamang’s effigies, a BJP delegation from Sikkim led by state president D R Thapa met with Home Minister Amit Shah on Sunday and informed him of the situation.

In a series of tweets on Monday, Amit Shah’s office stated that the Centre has submitted its position on the sanctity of Article 371F of the Constitution, which protects the Sikkimese identity, to the Supreme Court.

“…the safeguards should not be diluted. Furthermore, the observation in the said order about persons of foreign origin settled in Sikkim, such as Nepalis, should be reconsidered because the said persons are Sikkimese of Nepali origin,” the tweets stated.

Recommended For You

About the Author: Nunnem Gangte