Within the first 100 days of the new government, India will have an "equal opportunities commission" vested with court-like powers to check discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, caste or language, says Minister of State for Minority Affairs Salman Khurshid.
"The equal opportunities commission is a big ticket idea and is a broader vision to instill among the citizens of India a sense of equal rights and a share in the national cake," Khurshid, 56, told IANS in an interview.
"The commission with a statutory status would be a forum where people could complain if they felt they were denied any benefits because of their sex, religion, caste, race, language, birthplace, descent," said Khurshid, who holds independent charge of the portfolio.
The ambit of the commission will not be restricted to minorities and backward classes as was envisaged earlier, said Khurshid, a senior Congress leader. It would offer people from all walks of life -- individuals, groups or institutions -- the opportunity for grievance redressal.
"This is not a sheer grievance cell and will have enormous powers," he said.
An equivalent of a civil court, it will be able to conduct socio-legal audits and have the power to inspect and penalise those not following the guidelines.
It could also summon anyone and even conduct an investigation in public and private sector organisations.
The members of the commission, which would have a chairperson and two deputies, would be from different walks of life, "but with the seniority and authority comparable to high court and Supreme Court judges". There would be regional commissions across the country.
Khurshid, an Oxford alumnus who has taught at the prestigious Trinity College in Cambridge, won the Lok Sabha elections from the Farrukhabad constituency in Uttar Pradesh.
Asked when the commission would come into being, he replied with a sense of urgency: "When? At the earliest, this is priority for the next 100 days. Consultations with different ministries are in advanced stages and things are moving fast."
Khurshid, the son of former governor and minister of state for external affairs Khurshid Alam Khan and grandson of former president Zakir Hussain, said the need to set up this body spawned "from an overarching sense that many in the country still suffer unequal treatment".
"It will be a commission that is specifically equipped in terms of experience and expertise to define the contours of equality in every sphere of public and private endeavour and test policies and procedures against its formulations on equality," said Khurshid.