New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday reiterated that religious and linguistic minority status has to be decided state wise, and orally observed that it is difficult to entertain a prayer to identify religious and linguistic minorities at the district level.
A bench headed by justice U.U. Lalit expressed its reservation to entertain a plea seeking to declare Hindus as minority in states where they are out-numbered by other communities.
The bench, also comprising justice S Ravindra Bhat, pointed out to a counsel representing the petitioner that previously it had asked senior advocate Arvind Datar, who was appearing for the petitioner then, to produce concrete examples where Hindus are being denied the benefits of minority status in states where they are numerically less.
Advocate Ashwini Upadhyay, who filed another similar petition in the matter, submitted before the bench that Hindus are minorities in some states. The bench replied, “Theoretically you’re right, but if the Supreme Court has said it had to be state-wise, why should we interfere?”
It may be noted that in the case of TMA Pai and others vs State of Karnataka (2002), the Supreme Court had held that minorities must be identified at the state-level.
Upadhyay had also filed a petition challenging the provisions of National Commission for Minorities Act 1992 and National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions Act 2004 and sought minority status for Hindus in certain states/UTs.
The bench noted that when it is talking about minorities, there are all India minorities, for example, there are Parsis and Konkani speaking people and there are people who are minorities in a small place. It further queried the counsel, “so how do you declare? It is not the job of the court to declare”.
The bench told the counsel that it is generally saying that Hindus must be declared as minority, which the court cannot declare due to absence of statistics for every particular state and every particular religion.
The top court reiterated its query and asked the counsel to give concrete examples of cases where Hindus are denied the protection of Article 30 in states where they are in a minority.
After hearing the arguments, the bench scheduled the hearing in the first week of September.
The top court was hearing a plea filed by Devkinandan Thakur, challenging a provision of the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) Act and seeking a direction to the Centre to define “minority” and lay down the guidelines for the identification of minorities at the district level.
The plea said: “Cause of action continues till date because followers of Judaism, Bahaism, and Hinduism; who are real minorities in Ladakh, Mizoram, Lakshadweep, Kashmir, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Punjab, Manipur, cannot establish and administer educational institutions of their choice because of non-identification of minority’ at the state level, thus jeopardising their basic rights guaranteed under Article 29-30”.
The plea contended that their right under Articles 29-30 is being siphoned off illegally to the majority community in the state because the Centre has not notified them as minority’ under the NCM Act.
The plea challenged the Section 2(C) of the Act, which declared Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Parsis, Sikhs and Jains as minorities at the national level and sought direction for district-wise identification of minorities and state-wise status.
In May this year, the Ministry of Minority Affairs had told the Supreme Court that though the power is vested with the Centre to notify minorities, there should be a wider consultation with states and other stakeholders in view of the plea seeking a direction to the Centre to lay down guidelines for identification of minority at the state level, stating the Hindus are in minority in 10 states.