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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Kerala High Court nullifies 80:20 minority schemes for Muslims, Christians

The court acted on a PIL moved by Justine Pallivathukkal, arraigning the state government, state Minority Welfare Department and the Union Ministry of Minority Affairs as respondents.

Written by Shaju Philip | Thiruvananthapuram |
Updated: May 29, 2021 8:01:34 am
Kerala High CourtKerala High Court (file photo)

The Kerala High Court on Friday quashed three state government orders, nullifying the 80:20 ratio in distribution of minority scholarship schemes between Muslims and Latin Christians/converted Christians.

The court observed that such an act is unconstitutional.

The division bench of Chief Justice S Manikumar and Justice Shaji P Chaly directed the state government to pass “orders providing merit-cum-means scholarship to members of the notified minority communities equally and in accordance with the latest population census available with the State Minority Commission.’’

The court acted on a PIL moved by Justine Pallivathukkal, arraigning the state government, state Minority Welfare Department and the Union Ministry of Minority Affairs as respondents. The petitioner said that most socio-economic and educational empowerment schemes of the Centre are meant for the poor, including the six Centrally notified minorities. But while implementing various schemes in Kerala, “there is marked discrimination favouring one minority against other minority communities without any rationale”.

The issue recently led to sharp polarisation between Muslim and Christian communities in the state. When the Pinarayi Vijayan government assumed office for a second term last week, the Chief Minister kept the minority welfare portfolio for himself, in departure from the practice of a legislator belonging to the Muslim community becoming the minister.

The move has invited protests from various Muslim religious and political outfits. The High Court order nullifying the 80:20 ratio in scholarships is set to put the government in a tricky situation. It has to be seen whether the government moves an appeal against the verdict.

The Indian Union Muslim League said the state should make its stand clear on the issue, while the Catholic Church welcomed the order. Catholic Bishops Conference of India Council for Laity’s secretary V C Sebastain said the verdict is a warning from the court against denial of justice.

The court said the state government’s action in sub-classifying minorities by providing merit-cum-means scholarships cannot be legally sustained. It said, “There is nothing wrong in the state government providing facilities to weaker sections of the community, but when it comes to dealing with the notified minorities, it has to treat them equally, and it is not vested with any powers to treat them unequally, which is quite discernible from the provisions of the Constitution and laws.”

The court observed, “But here is a case where without taking into account entitlement of the Christian minority community within the state available from the population ratio, the State is indulging in providing scholarship to Muslim minority community at 80 per cent, which, according to us, is an unconstitutional act and unsupported by any law.”

The court said mere executive orders issued by the state government cannot overreach provisions of the Minority Commissions Acts, 1992 and 2014, and imperatives contained under provisions of the Constitution. Article 29 of the Constitution also casts a duty to protect educational interests of the minority community in equal measure and not in a discriminatory manner, the court said.

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