New Delhi: The Supreme Court (SC) yesterday sought the Karnataka Government’s response in a plea filed against a High Court (HC) verdict which had upheld the validity of the exemption granted to members of the Kodava community and Jamma tenure holders to carry and possess firearms without a licence.
A Bench comprising Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana, Justice Krishna Murari and Justice Hima Kohli was hearing a plea submitted by retired Army officer Captain Yaladalu Keshavananda Chethan.
On Oct. 29, 2019, a notification by the Ministry of Home Affairs had exempted the Kodava community and Jamma tenure holders from some of the provisions of the Arms Act, 1959.
“The arms or ammunition carried or possessed by any person being Coorg by race and every Jamma tenure holder in Coorg, and herein exempted whilst residing or travelling outside the district of Coorg shall not exceed one rifle with 100 rounds of ammunition for the same and one smoothbore breech or muzzle-loading gun with 500 cartridges or the equivalent in leaden shot and gunpowder,” the Union Ministry of Home Affairs stated.
In a petition filed in the Karnataka High Court, Chethan had sought to know why only one community was given this exemption. Senior counsels appearing for the Kodava community had argued that the exemption had been since British ruled India.
The High Court Bench of Justices Satish Chandra Sharma and S.S. Magadum had upheld the Government notification and validated the exemption. Chethan had then challenged this verdict in the Supreme Court.
According to the petitioner, the High Court, without applying the test of essential religious/cultural practices, has held that possessing guns is an integral part of the cultural and religious practices of the Kodava community.
The High Court had said: “The Kodava community which is a martial community and Jamma tenure holders are enjoying the benefit of exemption since pre-independence. They have rightly been granted an exemption for a period of ten years, it is not the case they have been granted exemption indefinitely. The exemption granted is subject to certain terms and conditions. Therefore, the Constitutional validity of the notification is upheld in the petition.”
“The exemption provided to the persons of Coorg race and Jamma tenure holders under Section 41 of the Arms Act, satisfies the test of reasonable classification under Article 14 of the Constitution of India and the question of questioning the notification dated Oct. 29, 2019, does not arise,” the High Court Bench had said.