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Centre’s to gather state’s opinion to identify minorities

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    20th Jan, 2023

Context

The Central government has sought more time in the Supreme Court to gather the views of six States and Union Territories for identifying minorities against its 1993 notification identifying Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis as minority communities needing reconsideration.

Background:

  • Till now, 24 State governmentsand Union Territories have given a mixed response;
  • Some leave the task of identifying minorities to the Centre or preferring the status quo,
  • While states like Assam and Uttarakhand, West Bengal and Tamil Naduhad maintained that minorities should be identified at the State-level.
  • The responses are still awaited from states including Jammu & Kashmir, Arunachal Pradesh, Lakshadweep, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, and Telangana.
  • While presenting the government’s argument, the Attorney General mentioned that the remaining states’ response is essential.
  • With this the Supreme Court has given a deadline to the central government in its order, listing the case on March 21, 2023.

About

About the case:

  • The National Commission for Minorities has said that those religious and linguistic minoritycommunities ought to be ‘identified State-wise’
  • The Commission had referred the same to the court's 11-judge Bench judgment in the T.M.A. Pai Foundation case of 2002 and Bal Patil verdict of 2005,in which the apex court had clarified that henceforth the unit for determining the status of both linguistic and religious minorities would be 'State'.

Who are considered minorities in India?

  • As per the Section 2(c)of the National Commission of Minorities Act 1993, the central government arbitrarily notified five communities namely;
  • Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis as ‘minority’ communities, without defining ‘minority’ and framing guidelines for identification at the State level.
  • In 2014, Jainas’ was added to the list as the sixth minority.

The three judges Bench of the Supreme Court in the Bal Patil case had categorically refused to grant minority status to Jains.

The National Commission on Minorities Act 1992:

  • The NCM Act defines a minority as “a community notified as such by the Central government.''
  • National Commission on Minorities:
    • Unlike the National Commission for SCs and for STs, it is not a constitutional body.
    • It was set up by an Act of Parliament in 1992.
    • The Constitution (One Hundred and Third Amendment) Bill, 2004, proposed to establish a new Commission, with constitutional status. But due to debate over who is a ‘minority’, the Bill lapsed.
  • What is the composition of the commission?
    • The Commission shall consist of a Chairperson, a Vice Chairperson and five Members to be nominated by the Central Government.
    • All members shall be from amongst the minority communities.

What are its functions?

  • The NCM Act lists 9 functionsof the Commission:
    • To evaluate the progress of the development of minorities under the Union and states;
    • To monitor the working of safeguards provided in the Constitution and in union and state laws;
    • To make recommendations for the effective implementation of safeguards for the protection of minority interests;
    • To look into, and take up, specific complaints regarding the deprivation of rights and safeguards of minorities;
    • to get problems of discrimination against minorities studied, and recommend ways to remove them;
    • To conduct studies, research, and analysis on the socioeconomic and educational development of minorities;
    • To suggest appropriate measures in respect of any minority to be undertaken by central or state governments;
    • To make periodic or special reports to the Centre on any matter concerning minorities; especially their difficulties;
    • To take up any other matter this may be referred to it by the central government.

Constitutional and Legal Provisions related to Minorities

  • National Commission for Minority Education Institution (NCMEI) Act, 2004:
    • It gives minority status to educational institutions on the basis of six religious communities notified by the government.
    • The term "minority" is not defined in the Indian Constitution. However, the Constitution recognises religious and linguistic minorities.
  • Articles 15 and 16:
    • Prohibition of discrimination against citizens on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.
    • Citizens’ right to ‘equality of opportunity’ in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State, and prohibition in this regard of any discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.
  • Article 25 (1), 26 and 28:
    • People’s freedom of conscience and right to freely profess, practise and propagate religion.
    • Right of every religious denomination or any section to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes, manage its own religious affairs, and own and acquire property and administer it.
    • People’s freedom to attendance at religious instruction or religious worship in educational institutions is wholly maintained, recognized, or aided by the State.
  • Article 29:
    • It provides that any section of the citizens residing in any part of India having a distinct language, script or culture, shall have the right to conserve the same.
    • It grants protection to both religious minorities as well as linguistic minorities.
    • However, the Supreme Court held that the scope of this article is not necessarily restricted to minorities only, as the use of the word ‘section of citizen's in the Article includes minorities as well as the majority.
  • Article 30:
    • All minorities shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.
    • The protection under Article 30 is confined only to minorities (religious or linguistic) and does not extend to any section of citizens (as under Article 29).
  • Article 350-B:
    • The 7th Constitutional (Amendment) Act 1956 inserted this article which provides for a Special Officer for Linguistic Minorities appointed by the President of India.
    • It would be the duty of the Special Officer to investigate all matters relating to the safeguards provided for linguistic minorities under the Constitution.

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