The Supreme Court said it was a settled position that religious and linguistic minority status of a community is to be decided state-wise on the basis of state population.
Key observations made by the SC –
- Minority status is state dependent — Every person in India can be a minority in one State or the other. Minority status of religious and linguistic communities is State-dependent.
- Minorities can inherently claim rights granted by the Constitution — A religious or linguistic community which is a minority in a particular State can inherently claim protection and the right to administer and run its own educational institutions under Articles 29 and 30.
- Majority getting minority status in a state is a travesty of justice —
- A Sikh institution in Punjab getting minority status is a travesty of justice.
- Christians who are in majority in Nagaland and Mizoram can’t be said to be minority in those states.
- The court emphasised that the exercise for deciding minority status has to be decided state-wise and not nationally.
- The SC made those observations while hearing a petition filed by a Mathura resident, Devkinandan Thakur.
- The petitioner challenged the validity of legislations that restrict minority benefits to only six communities in the country.
- He had challenged the provisions of the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) Act, 1992 and National Commission for Minorities Educational Institutions (NCMEI) Act, 2004.
- As per the petition, these legislations restricted rights available for minorities, including to establish and administer institutions, to six notified communities — Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Parsi and Jain.
- He complained that followers of Judaism, Bahaism and Hinduism cannot establish and administer educational institutions of their choice. These groups are the real minorities in Ladakh, Mizoram, Lakshadweep, Kashmir, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Punjab and Manipur.
- This is because of non-identification of ‘minority’ at State level, thus jeopardising their basic rights guaranteed under Articles 29 and 30.
Minorities in India –
- The expression minorities appear in some Articles of the Constitution, but is not defined anywhere.
- The central government decides who gets the minority community status in India. It is done under the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992.
- Only those belonging to the communities notified under Section 2(c) of the 1992 law are regarded as minority citizens.
- However, this arrangement may change soon.
- In March 2022, the central government told the SC that states could decide the minority status of the eligible communities within their territorial jurisdiction.
- This came as a response to public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Ashwini Upadhyay contending that those from the majority communities in some states are treated as minority citizens and therefore corner undue benefits.
- Currently, under this law, Centre had notified five groups — Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis and Jains — as ‘minority’ communities. Jains were added to the list in January 2014.
- The central government notifying only six communities as having the minority status at the national level has created problems.
- States generally don’t have their separate lists of the minority communities.
- But there are exceptions. E.g., Maharashtra has notified Jews as a minority community in the state.
Constitutional provisions dealing with rights of minorities –
- The subject of identification of the minority community is on the Concurrent List.
- Article 29 deals with the Protection of Interests of Minorities.
- Any section of the citizens residing in the territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same.
- No citizen shall be denied admission into any educational institution maintained by the State or receiving aid out of State funds on grounds only of religion, race, caste, language or any of them.
- Article 30 deals with the right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions.
- It says that all minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.
- Article 350(B) says there shall be a Special Officer for linguistic minorities to be appointed by the President.