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Identification of minorities: Centre files report in the Supreme Court with views of 24 states and UTs, most states seek right to identify minority groups

Centre told supreme court that it has held meetings with all state governments and union territories and other stakeholders on the matter of identification of minorities. 24 states and UTs have submitted their views, while 6 are yet to do so

The Central government has held consultation meetings with all state governments as well as union territories and other stakeholders on the issue of identification of religious and linguistic groups, including Hindus, to grant minority status. The central government has given this information to the Supreme Court. Since then, 24 states and six union territories have submitted their views. In an affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court, the central government said that a reminder, in this case, was sent to six states and union territories on December 21, 2022.

In May 2022, the apex court had directed the central government to hold consultations with the states with respect to the issue of the identification of minorities, including Hindus, at the state level. Accordingly, the centre held meetings with the states and UTs.

The Minority Affairs Ministry told the supreme court that it has held consultative meetings with all the state governments and union territories, and other stakeholders including the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of Law and Justice, the Ministry of Education, the National Commission for Minorities, and the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutes among others.

“The governments of 24 states – Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur, Odisha, Sikkim, Uttarakhand, Nagaland, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Gujarat, Goa, West Bengal, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and six Union Territories of Ladakh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Chandigarh, Delhi, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and Puducherry have submitted their views,” the ministry said.

According to the ministry, the remaining six state governments and Union Territories – Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Lakshadweep, Rajasthan, and Telangana – are yet to submit their views. The ministry said that a reminder was sent to six states and union territories on December 21, 2022. The Ministry of Minority Affairs has given this information in an affidavit.

The affidavit said some states and Union Territories have requested additional time to hold wider consultations with stakeholders before forming their opinion on the issue. The affidavit has been filed in response to some petitions, including one filed by advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay. Upadhyay’s petition had sought a direction to frame guidelines for the identification of minorities at the state level. The petition said that Hindus are a minority in 10 states.

The responses by stakeholders

The home ministry informed that court that it has no specific position on the matter, saying that, “the issue of the authority of the Parliament or the State Legislature to exclusively legislate on matters pertaining to minority communities is to be examined in consultation with the Ministry of Law and Justice”.

Ministry of education and the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions said in their responses that the identification of minorities at the district level is not legal, objecting to the plea made in the petitions.

West Bengal and Punjab governments said that only the states should have the right to identify and notify religious and linguistic groups as minorities. Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, Assam, Manipur and Sikkim governments stated that states should be considered for the identification of minorities and the country should not be taken as a unit for that purpose.

However, Tamil Nadu added that only the population should be the ground for granting minority status, and other factors like actual or probable deprivation of the religious, cultural and educational rights and their socioeconomic status etc also should be considered.

Himachal Pradesh was the lone state to say that the entire country should be considered as a unit. If Himachal’s argument is accepted, Hindus won’t get minority status in any state.

Manipur govt said that any religious group which constitutes less than 50% of the population in a state should be recognised as a religious minority group of the state. Chhattisgarh stated that Section 2(f) of the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions Act may be retained in the present form.

Haryana and Maharashtra said that the Central Government can notify the minorities. Uttar Pradesh also said it has no objection if any decision is taken by the Central Government in the matter.

Mizoram argued that the matter of reservation is in the concurrent list, therefore both the states and the centre can make laws on the subject, and it should be left to both the concerned state and the centre.

Delhi said it has objection if the followers of Judaism and Buddhism are declared as minority communities by the Central Government. Delhi government also stated that that “the Central Government may declare ‘migrated minority’ status to the followers of Hinduism who are a religious minority in their origin state and are residing in Delhi after migration from their home state.”

On the other hand, Nagaland, Bihar, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh said that they prefer the status quo in the matter. Odisha opposed the petitioner’s prayer to remove any of the six notified minorities from the list or to declare any other community as a minority.

Meghalaya said it has no comments to make on the matter. Union Territories of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman & Diu, Chandigarh, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh said that they will follow the directions of the central government. Puducherry stated that the petition does not apply to union territories.

Arunachal Pradesh, J&K, Jharkhand, Lakshadweep, Rajasthan and Telangana are yet to submit their responses.

The petition

The petitioners have moved the court seeking directions to the central government to define the term ‘minority’ and also to specify guidelines to identify minorities at the district level. The Petitions also challenge the constitutional validity of Section 2(c) of the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992, which gives the Centre power to notify minorities. Earlier in March last year, the centre had said in the court that in the states where Hindus are a minority, they can be granted minority status.

However, later the centre said that while it has the power to notify minorities, a stand in this regard can be taken only after wide consultations with State Governments and other stakeholders to avoid unintended complications in future.

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