In what could prompt the NDA government to revisit its policy on granting minority status, the Supreme Court on Monday sought the Centre’s view on whether a minority community in one state can hold on to its status in another state, where it may have significant population and a good social and professional standing.
“How can Sikhs be considered a minority in Punjab? For that matter, they cannot be considered a minority even in Delhi. Our view is that numerical strength or their numbers alone may not be a sufficient indicator of a community to be recognised as a minority. Their affluence, social status, etc should also have a role in such determination,” said a Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur.
Seeking the assistance of Attorney General of India Mukul Rohatgi in the matter, the bench posed the query: “Can Muslims in Kashmir and Sikhs in Punjab and Christians in Nagaland and some other Northeastern states be treated as a minority? According to us, economic and social status, number of people in government jobs, and several other factors should be taken into account… minority status may differ from one state to another.”
The bench was hearing a clutch of petition filed by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) and others, which urged it to permanently restore the minority status of its educational institutions in Punjab. This would allow them to have separate educational institutions to preserve their language or culture, besides other benefits.
The Punjab government had issued two notifications in 2001 and 2006 granting minority status to SGPC-run educational institutions, including medical and engineering colleges, that allowed the committee to reserve up to 50 per cent of the seats exclusively for students from the Sikh community.
But in 2007, the Punjab and Haryana High Court quashed both notifications after holding that Sikhs did not qualify to be minorities in Punjab as they comprised majority of the population in the state. This order was stayed by the apex court in 2008 after the SGPC moved in appeal.
The matter was placed before the Constitution Bench, which began hearing it last week. The bench asked why Sikh students, who belonged to the majority community in Punjab, should be given admission under the minority quota.
“Sikhs don’t seem to qualify for this (minority) status… neither on the basis of their numerical strength, nor on the basis of their financial status,” it said, fixing the matter for a detailed hearing after four weeks. Apart from asking for the AG’s assistance to place on record the government’s stand on the issue, the court appointed senior lawyer T R Andhyarujina as amicus curiae in the case.