Sikkimese women: in the recent ruling, the  Supreme Court of India has ruled that the exclusion of Sikkimese women who marry non-Sikkimese men after April 1, 2008, from exemptions under the Income Tax Act is unconstitutional and amounts to gender discrimination and will be void from now on officially. In the ruling of the Supreme Court. they held the ruling that this discrimination is based on gender, which is violative of Articles 14, 15, and 21 of the Constitution. In the ruling, Justice B.V. Nagarathna agreed that “there cannot be a discrimination vis-à-vis Sikkimese women marrying a non-Sikkimese individual, whether an Indian citizen or a foreigner, that too, on or after April 1, 2008”. The judges noted that a woman is not a chattel and has an identity of her own, and the mere factum of being married ought not to take away that identity.

Special status conferred to the Sikhim Women by the Constitution of India

The status of rights conferred to Sikkimese women is different from that of women in India. Certain conditionalities were imposed upon their property or inheritance rights such as the following:

  1. Immovable property inherited, gifted or purchased by women married to non-locals cannot be transferred and registered in their names.
  2. Immovable property of a Sikkimese woman cannot be transferred or registered to her legal heirs if her husband is non-Sikkimese.
  3. Mandatory requirement for Sikkimese women to submit an “unmarried certificate in all government procedures”.
  4. Identity of women is to be based on the identity of not one, but two men. A Sikkimese woman will be considered Sikkimese only if both, her father and husband are also Sikkimese

The case of the Association of Old Settlers of Sikkim and Ors (Taxpayers) revolves around the challenge to the constitutional validity of Section 10(26AAA) of the Income-tax Act, 1961 (ITA) before the Supreme Court of India. Here’s a breakdown of the case:

Background:

  • Section 10(26AAA): This section, introduced in the ITA by the Finance Act 2008 with retrospective effect from the tax year 1989-90, provides tax exemption to individuals classified as “Sikkimese” for income accruing or arising from sources in the State of Sikkim, or by way of dividend or interest on securities.
  • Proviso: However, a proviso to this section denies such exemption to a Sikkimese woman who marries a non-Sikkimese individual after 1 April 2008.
  • Definition of “Sikkimese”: The provision defines “Sikkimese” as:
  1. An individual whose name is recorded in the Register of Sikkim Subjects before 26 April 1975.
  2. An individual whose name is included in the Register of Sikkim Subjects by specific Government of India orders.
  3. Any other individual whose name does not appear in the Register of Sikkim Subjects but can establish beyond doubt the inclusion of their close relatives in the register.

Challenge:

  • Constitutional Validity: The taxpayers challenged the constitutional validity of the definition of “Sikkimese” under Section 10(26AAA) to the extent it excludes certain categories:
  1. Indians settled in Sikkim before its merger with India on 26 April 1975.
  2. Sikkimese women marrying non-Sikkimese individuals after 1 April 2008.

Arguments:

  • Exclusion of Certain Categories: The petitioners argued that the exclusion of pre-merger settlers and post-2008 marrying Sikkimese women from the definition of “Sikkimese” is arbitrary and discriminatory.

Supreme Court Decision:

  • Pending: The outcome of the case and the Supreme Court’s decision on the constitutional validity of Section 10(26AAA) are pending.

Does Section 10(26AAA) apply to Sikkimese people?

Yes, the Supreme Court held that the benefit of tax exemption provided in Section 10 (26AAA) shall be extended to all Sikkimese people. (Association of Old Settlers of Sikkim vs Union of India).

Ashutosh Raj

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