SC asks Centre to respond on PIL for statewise identification of minorities
The Supreme Court on Friday issued a notice seeking the Centre’s response to a public interest litigation (PIL) demanding the classification of religious minorities based on their population in each state.
The PIL seeks guidelines to enable minorities establish and run institutions under the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI) Act.
A three-judge bench headed by justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul issued a notice to three Central government ministries—Home, Law & Justice, Minority Affairs—based on the PIL filed by a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and lawyer Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay. The matter will be heard after six weeks.
The PIL specifically challenged the validity of Section 2(f) of the NCMEI Act 2004, which, the petition stated, gives unbridled powers to the Centre to restrict minority benefits to five religious communities—Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsees.
In addition, the PIL demanded the Centre lay down guidelines for the identification of minority communities at the state-level “to ensure that only those religious and linguistic groups which are socially, economically, politically non-dominant and numerically inferior, can establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.”
In December 2019, Upadhyay had approached the top court with a similar request wherein he challenged the classification of five religious communities as minorities under Section 2(c) of the National Commission of Minorities (NCM) Act 1992. This was based on a government notification of October 23, 1992 classifying Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsees as minority groups based on their national population.
A bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde had then dismissed the petition, observing, “States were formed on linguistic basis but religion has to be pan-India.”
The present petition has revived the same issue but via a different route. Instead of challenging the NCM Act, the petitioner has challenged the classification of minorities under the NCMEI Act. Upadhyay has cited a 2002 ruling of the top court in the TMA Pai cas, which states that for indentifying linguistic minorities, a state must be treated as the basic unit. According to the petition, the classification of minorities under the NCMEI Act violates this judgment given by an 11-judge bench.
Speaking to HT, Upadhyay said, “My fresh petition is different from the earlier petition. In this petition I have challenged the classification of minorities under the NCMEI Act.”
On February 20, Upadhyay had approached the apex court yet again with a request to declare Hindus as a minority in eight states/union territories where their population is less. A bench headed by justice RF Nariman allowed Upadhyay to withdraw his petition and approach the individual high courts. Based on this order, Upadhyay approached the Delhi High Court with the same prayer. On February 28, the HC issued a notice to the Centre, seeking its response. The PIL is still pending.