New Delhi, January 14
Should religious and linguistic minorities be identified on the basis of their population in a state or union territory?
The Centre has filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court detailing the stand taken by various states and UTs on the contentious issue after holding consultative meetings with them and other stakeholders.
It said 24 states and six UTs have furnished their views while comments from governments of Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Telangana and Arunachal Pradesh and UTs of Jammu & Kashmir and Lakshadweep were still awaited.
According to the affidavit, the AAP government of Punjab has told the Supreme Court that “Keeping in view…the peculiar geographical and social scenario of the State of Punjab, only the State Government is in a position to better appreciate the interests, well being and problems of different sections/communities residing in the State” even as it said “The Parliament and the State legislature, both have a right to enact law to provide for the protection of minorities and their interests…”
The Punjab government maintained that “In India different communities are in majority or in minority in different provinces/States depending upon their population. Therefore, it becomes necessary to protect the interests of the respective minority residing in the State in accordance with the Constitutional provisions.”
Interestingly, the BJP-ruled states are divided over the contentious issue. While Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka favoured the current policy of allowing the Centre to decide who was a minority; Assam, Uttarakhand and Manipur said it should be done state wise. The UP government said it will have no objection if any decision was taken by the Centre in the matter, while Haryana said it should be decided by the Centre on the basis of recommendation of the state. West Bengal and Tamil Nadu also said it should be decided at the state level.
The affidavit has been filed by the Ministry of Minority Affairs in response to a PIL filed by Delhi BJP leader and advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay seeking minority status for Hindus in states/UTs where they are less in numbers. He also challenged the validity of Section 2(f) of the National Commission for Minority Education Institution (NCMEI) Act 2004 on the ground that it gave unbridled power to the Centre to declare any group as minority without there being proper guidelines.
The term 'minority' has also not been defined under the Constitution or under the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992.
Upadhyay has sought minority status for Hindus in Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh, Mizoram, Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Lakshadweep on the ground that Hindus were numerically lower strength in these states/UTs. Contending Hindus were in minority in several states and were unable to avail the benefits of schemes meant for minorities, he also sought guidelines for identification of minorities at the state level. The top court had asked the Centre to consult the states and UTs on the issue and file a report.
The Ministry of Minority Affairs said it also held consultations with the Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Law & Justice, Ministry of Education; National Commission for Minorities (NCM) and the NCMEI on the issue.
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