Top court seeks govt reply on SC tag for Christians, Muslims in 3 weeks
Under the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950, only Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs can avail the scheduled castes status at the moment. “All these old matters are pending in this court because of its social ramifications,” said a Supreme Court bench of justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, AS Oka and Vikram Nath. “A day has come when we have to take a call on this.”
Stating that the day has come to take a call on issues having social ramifications, the Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the Centre to take a stand within three weeks on whether reservation benefits enjoyed by Scheduled Castes can be extended to Dalit members of Christianity and Islam.
Under the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950, only Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs can avail the scheduled castes status at the moment.
“All these old matters are pending in this court because of its social ramifications,” said a bench of justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, AS Oka and Vikram Nath. “A day has come when we have to take a call on this.”
The observation came as the top court was dealing with a petition filed by NGO Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) which flagged the issue for consideration by the court in 2004 and to which the Centre did not file any response during the long gap of 18 years.
The court gave the Centre three weeks’ time to place on record its stand on the issue of reservation for Dalit communities of religions other than those prescribed under the 1950 Order and posted the matter for consideration on October 11.
Solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said: “This matter is engaging the attention of the central government and we request for some time to bring the decision on record.”
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, who appeared for CPIL, told the court that the issue involves a short question whether the 1950 Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order discriminates against Dalit Muslims and Christians. Muslim and Christian organisations, too, had approached the Supreme Court and their petitions were bunched together with the CPIL petition.
The petition sought a direction from the court to declare paragraph (3) of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950 as unconstitutional as it stated, “…no person who professes a religion different from Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism shall be deemed to be a member of a scheduled caste.”
The petitioners sought delinking of religion from consideration of Scheduled Caste status.
In 2007, former top court judge, Justice Ranganath Misra headed a panel on the issue of granting scheduled castes status to religious communities besides Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists and recommended that the 1950 Order was discriminatory. However, the same was not accepted by the current NDA government.
“We do not accept the Ranganath Misra Commission report as it ignored many aspects,” said Mehta. But, the court asked him why no affidavit was filed rejecting the Misra Commission’s findings.
The 2011 census put total population figures for Christians and Muslims at 24 million and 138 million, respectively, but there is no data on Dalit converts from these religions. In 2008, a study by the National Commission for Minorities recommended scheduled castes status for Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims. This report, too, was not accepted.
Bhushan said the government apprehends that since Dalit Christians have wider access to education and other benefits, they will stand a better chance to corner the reservation benefits meant for Scheduled Castes. The court allowed Bhushan to file his response to Centre’s affidavit before the next date of hearing.