HC admits petition challenging withdrawal of state flag circular

Srinagar: The J&K High Court on Wednesday admitted a petition challenging the withdrawal of a circular that had reaffirmed the equal sanctity of the state flag and the Indian Tricolour in the state.
After admitting the petition, a single bench of Justice Hasnain Massodi also issued a notice to the government asking it to file a rejoinder within two weeks.
The court also asked the petitioner, Abdul Qayoom Khan, a retired forest officer and a former PDP man, to file a counter, if any, before the next date of hearing on July 22.
The directions by the court followed perusal of the objections filed by the government on the maintainability of the petition. The government had sought dismissal of the petition on a number of grounds, claiming none of the legal, constitutional or statutory rights of the petitioner has been violated by the withdrawal of the circular.
“There is a stated and well-known position under article 144 of the state constitution about the state flag and no further reiteration is needed,” the government said in the objections. It said that Khan has raised some contentions which cannot be adjudicated upon by the court under its extra-ordinary jurisdiction.
The circular (No. 13-GAD of 2015), on March 12 this year, was withdrawn by the ruling coalition headed by the PDP in less than 24 hours. In the petition, Khan has questioned circular (No. 14-GAD of 2015) issued by government’s General Administration Department on March 13 by virtue of which the circular calling for maintaining the flag’s sanctity was withdrawn.
“The withdrawal of the circular has led to an inference that whatever was stated in circular (No. 13-GAD) was not intended to be followed and room was left for non-adherence of constitutional provisions and J&K Prevention of Insult to State Honours Act,” Khan has said in the petition, insisting that the withdrawal of the circular “amounts to violation of the provisions of the Act and are therefore punishable under law.” The circular had also stated that under J&K Prevention of Insult to State Honors Act 1979, “it amounts to an insult if the state flag is not hoisted alongside the tricolor.”
“The flag shall always be hoisted jointly on the buildings housing constitutional institutions and shall be used on official cars of constitutional authorities,” it had said.
On June 15, the High Court while issuing a notice to the government for filing the objections to the petition had asked it to ensure that the sanctity of the state flag is maintained and provisions of J&K Prevention of Insult to State Honours Act 1979 acted upon in letter and spirit. “As per the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir and the Delhi Agreement of 1952 and keeping in view the historical background, the state flag has the same sanctity and position as the Union flag has under the Indian Constitution and other statutory provisions,” reads the circular issued on March 12, which was withdrawn.
While an official spokesperson had claimed the circular’s draft had “not been approved by the competent authority”, it is widely believed that the circular was withdrawn after an outcry by the BJP, whose earlier avatar, the Jan Sangh, had fought for abolition of the state flag and the state constitution.