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The Legal Dispute Over AMU's Minority Status: A 57-Year Journey

  • Published
    27th Jan, 2024
Context

The recent controversy over the minority status of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), has evoked strong reactions. It has raised debate around historical developments, constitutional provisions, and the current judicial discourse.

Background

Founding and Evolution of AMU:

- In 1877, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan established Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College (MAO College) in Aligarh to address Muslim educational backwardness and preserve Islamic values.

- The Aligarh Muslim University Act, 1920 (AMU Act) was enacted, incorporating MAO College and the Muslim University Association into AMU.

Key Amendments and Changes:

- In 1951, amendments removed compulsory religious education and exclusive Muslim representation mandates.

- Further amendments in 1965 redistributed powers among various bodies, reducing the exclusive powers of the University Court.

- The legal dispute began in 1967 when the Supreme Court (SC) reviewed these amendments in the S. Azeez Basha versus Union of India (UOI) case.

The Legal Dispute:

Arguments Regarding Minority Status:

- Article 30(1) of the Constitution grants religious and linguistic minorities the right to establish and administer educational institutions.

- The 1967 SC bench held that AMU was not established or administered by the Muslim minority, leading to nationwide protests.

- The AMU Act was amended in 1981 to reaffirm the university's minority status, which was contested in subsequent legal battles.

Reservation Controversy:

- In 2005, AMU reserved 50% of postgraduate medical seats for Muslim candidates.

- The Allahabad High Court struck down the reservation policy in Dr Naresh Agarwal vs UOI (2005), considering the 1981 amendment ultra vires.

Current Status in the Supreme Court:

Critical Issues Under Consideration:

- The SC, led by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, is addressing two crucial issues: the criteria for determining minority status and whether an institution under statute can enjoy such status.

- The petitioners argue for AMU's entitlement to minority status, citing the T.M.A Pai Foundation verdict.

- The UOI endorses the S. Azeez Basha verdict, questioning the establishment and administration of AMU by the Muslim minority.

Legal Arguments in the SC:

- Senior Advocates argue that Statutory regulations or state aid, as received by AMU, do not strip an educational institution of its minority character.

- Solicitor General contends that AMU, having surrendered rights to the British government and assumed a secular character, should not retain minority status.

- Chief Justice emphasizes that AMU's political inclination does not affect its minority status.

Future Implications:

- The SC's judgment will set a precedent impacting the rights and legal recognition of all minority institutions.

- The case has far-reaching consequences for the interpretation of Article 30(1) and the determination of minority character in educational institutions.

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