The term ‘minority’ is set to get a clear-cut legal definition. The government will soon move a constitutional amendment in Parliament to establish the procedure for defining minorities and laying down the criteria to be fulfilled for a group to find place in the list of minorities.
The proposed amendment will do away with the very concept of ‘minorities’ at the national level. There will only be state-specific minorities. This move is in keeping with the spirit of a number of Supreme Court judgments. It defines a ‘minority’ as a section of citizens of a state which has been specified as a minority in that state, by a presidential notification issued after consultations with the state government.
Another provision gives Parliament the final say in the matter of defining ‘minorities’. Parliament will be empowered to enact laws to include or exclude any section of citizens from the list of minorities. “The amendment is a major step,” a senior government functionary, who did not wish to be named, told HT. “This is the first time that minorities are going to be defined.”
Once in place, the amendment will obviate any confusion on the question of minorities, like the one that led to last month’s Allahabad High Court judgment. The court held that Muslims — 18.5 per cent of Uttar Pradesh’s population in 2001 — were not a religious minority in the state. It said the state government should treat members of the Muslim community as equal to those belonging to the non-minority communities without discrimination in accordance with the law. A division bench, however, stayed the ruling the next day.
The cabinet cleared the official amendment to the Constitution — the 103rd Amendment Bill 2004 — at a meeting chaired by the prime minister last week. The bill could come up for discussion during the ongoing budget session.