On the question of notifying minorities

News: A public interest litigation (PIL) under the consideration of the Supreme Court of India has challenged the power of the Centre to notify minority communities at a national level.

Who are the minority communities at national level?

Six communities are currently notified as minority communities at the national level — Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis and Jains.

Who is a minority and who decides that?

The PIL specifically questions the validity of Section 2(f) of the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions or NCMEI Act 2004, terming it arbitrary and contrary to Articles 14, 15, 21, 29 and 30 of the Constitution.

Section 2(f) says “minority ,”for the purpose of this Act, means a community notified as such by the Central Government.” Section 2(c) of the of National Commission for Minorities (NCM) Act, 1992 also gives the Centre similar powers.

In 2005, the Govt at the Centre notified five communities — Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis — as minorities at the national level.

In 2014, the Central government notified followers of Jainism as a minority community, making them the sixth on the national list.

What does the PIL argue?

The petitioner argues that the Centre’s decision was arbitrary since the SC had held, in the T. M. A. Pai Foundation vs State Of Karnataka case of 2002 that, “for the purpose of determining minority, the unit will be State and not whole India.”

The petitioner argued that the Centre’s notification has created an anomalous situation in which the communities declared as minorities by the Centre enjoy the status even in States/UTs where they are in majority (Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir and Christians in Nagaland for instance) while followers of Hinduism, Judaism and Bahaism who are minorities are not accorded the same status under the Act.

The petition seeks the SC to curtail the Centre’s power to notify national minorities or direct the Centre to notify followers of Hinduism, Bahaism and Judaism as minorities in States/UTs where they are actually fewer in numbers; or direct that only those communities that are “socially, economically and politically non-dominant” besides being numerically smaller in States/UTs be allowed the status of minorities.

How has the Govt responded?

The Centre filed two affidavits in the case. In both, the Centre said it had the power to notify minority communities.

In the first, the Centre categorically defended the concept of minorities at the national level. Centre has pointed out that it had concurrent powers with States to take measures for the welfare of minorities. States could have minorities notified as such within their jurisdiction, and it even cited the examples of Maharashtra recognising Jews as a minority community and Karnataka recognising speakers of several languages as linguistic minorities.

In the second, the Centre remains silent on the concept of minorities at national level. specific question.

In other words, the Centre has not taken a position, one way or the other, about continuing the national list of minorities while it reiterated its power to notify communities as minorities under Central Acts.

What happens next?

The Centre has said it would come back to the apex court after consideration of several sociological and other aspects.

It said “any stand without detailed deliberations with stakeholders may result in an unintended complication for the country.” Though the power is vested with the Central government, it would consult the States and other stakeholders.

Source: This post is based on the article “On the question of notifying minorities” published in The Hindu on 13th May 22.

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