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Thursday, June 30, 2022

Minority status for Hindus: Supreme Court expresses displeasure over Centre’s changing stance, gives more time for discussions with states

The court allowed the Centre’s request for time to carry out the discussions and fixed the matter for hearing on August 30.

Written by Ananthakrishnan G | New Delhi |
Updated: May 10, 2022 3:20:24 pm
The Ministry of Minority Affairs said that matter has “far-reaching ramifiations”, and added that it needed more time for discussions with “state governments and other stakeholders”. (File)

The Supreme Court Tuesday said that the affidavit filed by the BJP-led Union government the previous day in response to a prayer seeking minority status for Hindus in certain states and Union territories where their numbers have gone below others “seems to an extent to backout of what was stated” in an “earlier” affidavit filed on March 25 this year and that the court doesn’t “appreciate” this.

“It seems to an extent to backout of what was stated earlier, something we don’t appreciate”, Justice S K Kaul, presiding over a two-judge bench comprising Justice M M Sundresh, said after perusing the two affidavits.

While in the March 25 affidavit , which was filed after repeated proddings from the court, the Centre sought to shift the onus of granting minority status to states saying they too have concurrent powers to do so, in the new affidavit filed on May 9 “in supersession of the earlier affidavit”, it said that “the power is vested with the Centre to notify minorities”. The Ministry of Minority Affairs said that matter has “far-reaching ramifiations”, and added that it needed more time for discussions with “state governments and other stakeholders”.

Conveying the court’s displeasure over the changing stance, Justice Kaul said: “They have turned turtle…What I am not able to understand is (that) Union of India is not able to decide what it wants to do. All this thought should have been given before…This creates an uncertainty. And you know all this by its very nature comes into public domain before we put our eyes to it…So this creates its own dynamics.”

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On the prayer to grant more time for discussions with states, the court said: “If you want to consult states, you will have to take a call whatever…Solution can’t be everything is complex, we will do so. This cannot be the answer from the Government of India. You decide what you want to do. If you want to consult, consult; who is stopping you from consulting.”

The bench allowed the Centre’s request for time to carry out the discussions and fixed the matter for hearing on August 30.

The plea by advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay also challenges the Centre’s powers under the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992, to notify minorities. Upadhyay’s plea relied on the 2011 Census of India, according to which Hindus are a minority in Lakshadweep, Mizoram, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Jammu and Kashmir, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, and Punjab.

He contended that accordingly, the community should be given minority status in these states or Union territories as per the TMA Pai ruling in which the Supreme Court said that for the purposes of Article 30 that deals with the rights of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions, the religious and linguistic minorities have to be considered statewise.

Upadhyay first moved the Supreme Court in 2017 praying for appropriate guidelines for the identification of minorities and for quashing the central notification issued under Section 2(c) of the National Minorities Commission (NCM) Act declaring Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis as ‘minority’ community. He pointed out that Jains were also added in the list in 2014, but not Hindus despite them being a minority in some states and Union territories.

The Supreme Court then asked him to approach the NCM which said that it “does not have the jurisdiction to deal with the prayer…” and that under Section 2(c) of the NCM Act, only the Centre can declare a community as a ‘minority’.

Upadhyay again moved the Supreme Court where a bench headed by then Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi sought the assistance of Attorney General K K Venugopal.

But by the time it was listed next for hearing, CJI Gogoi had demitted office and the new bench headed by his successor CJI S A Bobde dismissed the plea without assigning any reasons.

Following this, he again filed a petition in August 2020, also challenging the Constitutional validity of Section 2(c) of the NCM Act. The Supreme Court issued notice to the Centre in the matter on August 28, 2020.

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