Centre changing goalposts on ‘minority status’ leaves apex court fuming
Supreme Court on Tuesday expressed displeasure over the Centre taking different stands on the issue of identification of minorities, including Hindus, at the State level and directed it to hold consultations with the States on the issue within three months. Changing its earlier stand, the Centre had on Monday told the apex court that the power to notify minorities is vested with the Union government and any decision in this regard will be taken after discussion with States and other stakeholders.
The Centre had in March said that it was for the States and Union Territories (UTs) to take a call on whether or not to grant minority status to Hindus and other communities where they are less in number. The bench of Justices S K Kaul and M M Sundresh said in a matter like this an affidavit is filed that the Centre and state both have powers. “Later, you say the Centre has powers. In a country like ours, which has so much diversification, we understand but somebody should have been more careful. Before these affidavits are filed everything is in the public domain which has its own consequences. Therefore, you have to be more careful in what you say,” the bench observed expressing displeasure.
The bench said, ”A fresh affidavit has been filed by the Ministry of Minority Affairs which seems to back out what was said in the earlier affidavit. Something we don’t appreciate. It is now sought to be stated that the question sought to be adjudicated has far-reaching ramifications throughout the country.
“The stand has already been taken in the first affidavit. But as per the fresh affidavit, the power is vested with the Central government to identify minorities…Aforesaid being the position, it is necessary that the exercise is taken by the Centre as proposed. List on August 30,” the bench said while seeking a status report three days before the hearing.
“What I am unable to understand is Union of India is not able to decide what to do. All this thought should have been given before. This creates uncertainty and all this comes into the public domain before we put our eyes on it. This creates another problem,” said the judges during the hearing when the Centre sought some more time.
The apex court had earlier granted four weeks to the Centre to respond to a plea, which has sought directions for framing of guidelines for the identification of minorities at the state level, contending that Hindus are in minority in 10 states. In an affidavit filed in response to a plea filed by advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, the Ministry of Minority Affairs said the Central government has notified six communities as minority communities under section 2C of the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992.
The Ministry of Minority Affairs had earlier told the apex court that state governments can declare any religious or linguistic community, including Hindus, a minority within the said State. Ministry had also submitted that matters concerning whether followers of Hinduism, Judaism, and Bahaism can establish and administer educational institutions of their choice in the said states and those related to their identification as a minority within the state may be considered at the State level.
Upadhyay had challenged the validity of section 2(f) of the National Commission for Minority Education Institution Act, 2004, alleging that it gives unbridled power to the Centre and termed it “manifestly arbitrary, irrational, and offending”. Section 2(f) of the Act empowers the Centre to identify and notify Minority communities in India.
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