The Jammu and Kashmir government today revoked the suspension of a college teacher who had recently argued against the scrapping of Article 370 in the Supreme Court.
The suspension of Zahoor Ahmad Bhat, a senior lecturer of political science, surfaced when the Supreme Court was hearing petitions challenging the centre’s 2019 move.
The Supreme Court had sought to know if the suspension was linked to his court appearance and indicated it would take a dim view if this was the case, suggesting it might be seen as “retribution”.
The government’s top law officer, too, admitted the timing of his suspension was not proper.
The Jammu and Kashmir government revoked the suspension order on Sunday and asked Mr Bhat to “report back for his original place of posting”.
This comes a day before the centre concludes its argument in the Article 370 case before the Supreme Court. This is also the first instance in last the four years that a government order was revoked in Jammu and Kashmir.
The Supreme Court last week asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to speak with the Lt Governor over the lecturer being suspended days after he had appeared before its five-judge Constitution bench.
Before the court, Mr Bhat, who also holds a law degree, had argued against the 2019 move that took away Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and bifurcated it into two Union territories.
Soon after, the Jammu and Kashmir Education department suspended him citing the violations of the civil service regulations, government employees conduct rules and leave rules.
Senior lawyer Kapil Sibal raised the issue in the Supreme Court after which Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud asked Attorney General R Venkataramani to look into it and speak to the Lt Governor.
Mr Sibal told the court that Mr Bhat had argued for five minutes in the court which led to his suspension on August 25. “He took leave for two days, went back, and was suspended,” he informed.
“Mr AG, just see what has happened. Someone who appears in this court is suspended now. Have a look into it. Talk to the LG,” the Chief Justice remarked. “If there is something else, then it’s different. But why such close succession to him appearing and then getting suspended,” he asked.
Justice SK Kaul, also part of the Constitution Bench, pointed out the “close proximity” between the arguments and the suspension order, following which the Solicitor General admitted that the “timing was not definitely proper”
Justice BR Gavai, another judge on the bench, too said the government action may be a retribution.
Mr Mehta pointed out there were other issues that had led to his suspension and that Mr Bhat appears in various courts.
Then, he should have been suspended earlier, why now, argued Mr Sibal.
The senior lawyer said Mr Bhat teaches politics in Jammu and Kashmir and it had become difficult for him since the 2019 move as his students were raising questions over democracy.