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Centre right in saying states can decide minority status: former NCM chiefs

Former NCM chairperson Wajahat Habibullah has said that during his tenure as Chair, the NCM had raised the issue of state powers to designate minority status to communities and had even pushed for a minority status for Kashmiri Pandits in Jammu and Kashmir.

Written by Esha Roy | New Delhi |
Updated: March 29, 2022 11:19:07 am
Former NCM chairperson Wajahat Habibullah (Express Photo/File)

As the central government has placed the onus of declaring religious and linguistic minorities on states in an affidavit submitted in the Supreme Court saying that “both Parliament and state legislatures have concurrent powers to enact law to provide for the protection of minorities and their interests”, at least two former chairpersons of the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) agree with the Centre’s stand.

Former NCM chairperson Wajahat Habibullah has said that during his tenure as Chair, the NCM had raised the issue of state powers to designate minority status to communities and had even pushed for a minority status for Kashmiri Pandits in Jammu and Kashmir.

“The NCM Act applies to the entire country. We felt that each state should have its own Act. I myself, when I was heading the panel, had recommended that a commission for minorities be set up for Jammu and Kashmir specifically and a Kashmiri Pandit should head it in light of community’s sufferings. We had recommended that this commission take into account the complexity of the region – with a Muslim dominated Kashmir, a Buddhist dominated Ladakh and a Hindu-dominated Jammu. We had also recommended that Pandits be declared a minority community and be protected accordingly,’’ said Habibullah.

Iqbal Singh Lalpura, who recently demitted the office as NCM chairperson in order to fight the Punjab elections, said, “The central government’s stand is correct. The NCM is concerned with three main subjects – education, no discrimination at the workplace, and equality for minorities; and this means whichever community is a minority in whichever state. I have personally written to states to set up their own commissions – but they have not responded and have not taken action on the matter,’’ says Lalpura.

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Former Vice-President of India, Hamid Ansari, who had also chaired the NCM, says, “The point is that the whole exercise is governed by an Act of Parliament – the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992 — which defines a certain area of jurisdiction. If the central government wishes that the scope of the exercise be extended, then all that needs to be done is for the Act to be revisited…’’

Former Joint Intelligence Committee chairman and NCM member Keki Daruwalla said, “The whole debate on the matter began with the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley. Things are already complex. Why make them even more complicated?’’

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