The Ministry of Home Affairs on Monday filed a review petition in the Supreme Court to support the Sikkim government’s demand for removing a reference to the Sikkimese Nepali community as “foreigners” from a recent judgement

In a series of tweets, Home Minister Amit Shah’s office said the central government has submitted before the Supreme Court its position about the sanctity of Article 371F of the Constitution that safeguards the Sikkimese identity.

The development came a day after Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju assured the residents of Sikkim that the judgement does not deal with or dilute Article 371F of the Constitution.

“We value the Constitutional status of every genuine Indian and will be protected at any cost,” he said.

On January 13, a bench comprising Justices MR Shah and BV Nagarathna had held that Indians who had settled in Sikkim on or before April 26, 1975 – the date on which the state merged with India – will be entitled to be exempt from income tax.

The order came on a writ petition by Association of Old Settlers of Sikkim that had challenged the definition of “Sikkimese” under Section 10 (26AAA) of the Income Tax to the extent that those who were Sikkimese nationals before the state became a part of India in 1975.

The association had argued that the exclusion was discriminatory and contravened the fundamental right to equality guaranteed by the Constitution. The court held that the benefit of the tax exemption should be extended to all Indian citizens domiciled in Sikkim.

However, in the judgement, one of the judges, Justice BV Nagarathna, while talking about the history of Sikkim noted that the Sikkim Income Tax Manual from 1948 treated everyone alike “irrespective of their origin”. There was “no difference” between “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”.

While the judgement was welcomed, the observation of Sikkimese Nepalis as “foreigners” was criticised by the ruling and Opposition party, which also carried out protests.

The protests resulted in the resignation of the state’s Additional Advocate General Sudesh Joshi, who represented the petitioners. Sikkim’s Health Minister MK Sharma too resigned, while accusing the ruling party of not taking the “sentiments of the Sikkimese people seriously”.

On January 27, Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang said that his government has initiated steps to file a petition seeking to expunge references to the Sikkimese Nepali community as “foreigners” in the judgement.