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Defining minority: what the constitution says, how SC has ruled

  • Published
    29th Mar, 2022

The Supreme Court will recently take up a petition seeking identification of minorities at the state level and granting minority status to Hindus in states and union territories where their numbers have gone below other communities.


 About Minorities in India:

  • The expression “minorities” appears in some Articles of the Constitution, but is not defined anywhere in the constitution.
  • Article 29 refers to “minorities” in its marginal heading and speaks of “any section of citizens having a distinct language, script and culture”.
    • An entire community or a group within a majority community could thus be seen as a minority.
  • Article 30 of the Indian Constitution states the right of minorities to establish and administer their educational institutions.
    • It says: “All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.”
  • Currently, only those communities notified under section 2(c) of the National Minorities Commission Act, 1992, by the central government are regarded as minority.
    • The Centre had in 1993 notified five communities — Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis and Christians as minorities.
    • Jains were added to the list in January 2014.

What is the case about?

  • A petition has contended that the 2011 census showed that Hindus have become a minority in Lakshadweep (2.5%), Mizoram (2.75%), Nagaland (8.75%), Meghalaya (11.53%), J&K (28.44%), Arunachal Pradesh (29%), Manipur (31.39%), and Punjab (38.40%), but was bring denied minority benefits that are currently being enjoyed by the respective majority communities in these places.
  • The plea relies on the Supreme Court’s 2002 ruling in the TMA Pai Foundation case (TMA Pai Foundation & Ors vs State of Karnataka & Ors) and the 2005 decision in the Bal Patil case (Bal Patil & Anr vs Union Of India & Ors).

SC Rulings on the subject:

  • In the case of TMA Pai v. State of Karnataka (2002),
    • The Supreme Court took a more specific view regarding the status of minority communities in a state.
    • The court opined that the status of a minority community should be determined on the basis of the state since states have been reorganised on linguistic basis.
    • Therefore, the Court held that both linguistic and religious minorities have provided equal status under Article 30 and have to be determined state-wise.
  • In the case of Bal Patil v. Union of India (2005),
    • The Supreme Court stated linguistic and religious minorities are different from each other but concurred with the TMA Pai verdict that minorities should be determined state-wise.
    • However, the Court clarified that only linguistic minorities should be declared state-wise and not religious minorities.
    • The Court believed that it is pertinent to declare religious minorities nation-wise to preserve the unity and integrity of the nation.
    • Moreover, the court held that the National Commission of Minorities is not empowered to declare a community as a minority and only the central government is empowered to do so.

National Commission of Minorities:

  • National Commission for Minorities (NCM) was set up under the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992.
  • It Monitor the working of the safeguards for minorities provided in the Constitution and in laws enacted by Parliament and the state legislatures
  • Background:
    • Setting up of the Minorities Commission (MC) was envisaged in the Ministry of Home Affairs Resolution In 1978.
    • In 1984, the ‘Minorities Commission’ was detached from the Ministry of Home Affairs and placed under the newly created Ministry of Welfare.
    • In 1992, with the enactment of the ‘National Commission for Minorities Act (NCM Act), 1992’, the MC became a statutory body and was renamed as the ‘National Commission for Minorities’ (NCM).
    • At present National Commission for Minorities functions under the jurisdiction of Ministry of Minority Affairs.
  • Composition:
    • NCM consists of a Chairperson, a Vice-Chairperson and five members and all of them shall be from amongst the minority communities.
    • Total of 7 persons to be nominated by the Central Government should be from amongst persons of eminence, ability and integrity.
    • Each Member holds office for a period of three years from the date of assumption of office.
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