The Supreme Court order restoring four per cent quota for backward class Muslims in government jobs and education in Andhra Pradesh has come as a relief for students aspiring for professional courses and has been welcomed by the community, which now wants more to states implement it.
Students, who feared they would lose an academic year because the Andhra Pradesh High Court last month quashed the quota, were elated with the Supreme Court's interim order. The court Thursday observed there was nothing wrong in providing a quota for Muslim backward classes.
Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) president and Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi, who is spearheading a campaign for the restoration of Muslim quota in the state, termed the court verdict as "remarkable". "This is our first victory and will save the academic year of Muslim students," he said.
The court order will enable students from 14 backward Muslim groups in Andhra Pradesh, where the community accounts for 9.2 per cent of the 77 million population, to avail of the reservation benefits for the fourth consecutive year. Since a constitution bench of the apex court will take up the hearing in August, admissions to most of the professional courses would be completed by then.
"The court order will encourage us to do well and we can continue to avail of the quota benefit," said Mohammed Saifullah, a Class 12 student who hopes to get admission to an MBBS course.
In the past three years, about 30,000 Muslim students were admitted to various professional courses and higher education and nearly 3,000 candidates were recruited in government jobs.
The apex court judgment has also raised hopes among Muslim students appearing for the Andhra Pradesh Public Service Commission (APPSC) examinations, where reservations have not only benefited Muslims in getting lower cadre government jobs under Group II but helped them to occupy higher administrative positions too, like that of deputy collectors.
The beneficiaries and community leaders give credit for this to late chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, who provided reservation soon after coming to power in 2004.
Fulfilling his election promise, YSR had provided five per cent quota to Muslims through a government order in 2004. But the high court quashed it on petitions by some individuals.
However, on the court's advice, the government reconstituted the backward classes commission and directed it to conduct a detailed survey of the socio-economic conditions of Muslims.
On the commission's recommendations, the government issued an ordinance in 2005 for five per cent reservation, and the assembly subsequently passed the legislation. However, it was quashed by the high court on grounds that this would exceed the 50 per cent quota limit set by the Supreme Court.
The government then issued another order in 2007 providing four per cent quota in government jobs and educational institutions for backward classes among Muslims.
A seven-judge bench of the high court Feb 8 quashed the Andhra Pradesh Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes of Muslims Act of 2007, this time saying reservations cannot be extended on religious basis.
Muslim leaders in Bihar, where the community accounts for 16 per cent of the state's 83 million people, also welcomed the apex court order and called on various state governments to similarly extend the benefits of reservation to the community.
Terming it a "historical decision", the influential Patna-based Imarat Shariah's chief Maulana Syed Nizamuddin told IANS this would have a long-term effect on the development of Muslims in India.
The government should provide reservation for 15 years to backward members of the Muslim community as well as other categories of Muslims, said Nizamuddin, who is also the general secretary of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board.
Dalit Muslim leader Irshadul Haque said that reservation for Muslims, particularly backward members, will help empower them.
Maulana Anisur Rahman Qasmi, chairman of the Bihar Haj Committee, said the Muslim community deserves reservation for their empowerment.
Gulam Ghaus, a legislator of the opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal, said that Muslims will have to fight for a similar reservation in other states. "Muslims are as backward and poor as Dalits in the country. Reservation is a tool to push them ahead," he said.