MORE THAN four years after a demand was first raised before Supreme Court to provide minority status for Hindus in states where their numbers have gone below other communities – by implementing the verdict in the landmark T M A Pai case that says minorities must be identified at the state-level – the Centre on Monday continued to bid for more time from the court to make up its mind on the issue. It said the issue has “far-reaching ramifications” and needed more discussions with “state governments and other stakeholders”.
“It is submitted that the question involved in this writ petition has far-reaching ramifications throughout the country and, therefore, any stand taken without detailed deliberations with the stakeholders may result in an unintended complication for the country,” the Ministry of Minority Affairs said in an affidavit filed in response to a plea by Advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay.
Though Upadhyay’s present petition was filed in 2020, he had first approached the top court with the demand for minority status for Hindus in 2017, only to be sent to the National Commission For Minorities, which said only the Centre could grant the relief he was seeking.
The fresh three-page affidavit by a Secretary in the Minority Affairs Ministry said “though the power is vested with the central government to notify minorities, the stand to be formulated by the central government with regard to issues raised in” the petition “will be finalised after having a wide consultation with the state governments and other stakeholders”.
“This will ensure that the central government is able to place considered view before this Hon’ble Court taking into consideration several sociological and other aspects obviating any unintended complications in future with regard to such a vital issue.”
In its previous affidavit, filed on March 25 after repeated prodding by the court which asked the government to take a stand on the issue and even imposed a cost of Rs 7,500 on it for delay in complying, the Centre had sought to shift the onus on states, saying they, too, have the power to declare a group as a minority. It also sought dismissal of Upadhyay’s plea, saying “the reliefs sought by the petitioner are not in larger public or national interest”.
However, when this affidavit was taken up for hearing on March 28, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said he had not vetted it and sought time from a bench presided by Justice S K Kaul to submit a new one. Granting four weeks, the court said, “We have made the learned SG conscious of the fact that four weeks means 28 days.” It also gave two weeks to the petitioner to file any rejoinder to the Centre’s affidavit and fixed May 10 for the matter again. The Centre, however, did not file the reply within 28 days and submitted it only on Monday, a day before the scheduled date of hearing.
Upadhyay’s plea has relied on the 2011 Census according to which Hindus are a minority in Lakshadweep, Mizoram, Nagaland, Meghalaya, J&K, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Punjab. He contended that accordingly the community should be given minority status in these states and UTs as per the T M A Pai ruling, in which the court said that for the purposes of Article 30 – that deals with rights of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions – religious and linguistic minorities have to be considered state-wise.
Upadhyay had first moved the Supreme Court in 2017, praying for appropriate guidelines for identification of minorities and for quashing the central notification issued under Section 2(c) of the National Minorities Commission (NCM) Act declaring Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis as “minority” community. He said that Jains were also added in the list in 2014, but not the Hindus despite them being a minority in some states and UTs.
The court asked him to approach the NCM, which said it “does not have the jurisdiction to deal with the prayer…” and that under Section 2(c) of the NCM Act, only the Centre can declare a community as “minority”. Upadhyay filed a fresh plea in August 2020.