Context:

The Delhi High Court extended the deadline given to the Centre to nominate persons to all the vacant positions in the National Commission for Minorities by two months (till September 2021).

The National Commission for Minorities (NCM) is now down to just one member. There is only one vice-chairperson, who is currently functioning in the Commission.

The National Commission for Minorities (NCM) has told the Supreme Court that minorities have to be treated as the “weaker sections” in India, justifying the Union government’s various schemes for religious minorities.

Relevance:

GS-II: Polity and Governance (Constitutional Provisions, Statutory Bodies, Government Policies and Interventions), GS-II: Social Justice and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What the National Commission for Minorities said regarding ‘weaker sections’?
  2. About National Commission for Minorities (NCM)
  3. Formation of the National Commission for Minorities (NCM)
  4. Functions of the NCM
  5. Composition of the NCM
  6. Constitutional Provisions

What the National Commission for Minorities said regarding ‘weaker sections’?

  • The National Commission for Minorities (NCM) has told the Supreme Court that minorities have to be treated as the “weaker sections” in India, where Hindus are “predominant,” as the body justified the Union government’s various schemes for religious minorities.
  • NCM maintained that “numerically smaller or weaker classes are bound to be suppressed and overpowered by the dominant majority groups” if special provisions and schemes were not framed by the government.
  • It added that the pertinent constitutional provisions on framing special schemes could not be limited to caste-based identities and must include in its fold religious minorities to ensure practical and empirical equality of all groups and classes in the society.
  • The Centre and the NCM have notified Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Parsis as minority communities in India. Contending that only Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists could get benefits as scheduled castes, the commission argued that if these special provisions were valid despite being religion-specific, special provisions for religious minorities were also justified in the same manner.
  • The commission emphasised that the interpretation of the Constitution coupled with judicial trends would demonstrate that religious and linguistic minorities “have to be” treated as specific identities entitled to special protection by the state.

About National Commission for Minorities (NCM)

  • The Union Government set up the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) under the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992. Hence, the NCM is a Statutory Body.
  • Six religious communities, viz; Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Zoroastrians (Parsis) and Jains have been notified in Gazette of India as minority communities by the Union Government all over India.
  • The term “minority” is not defined in the Indian Constitution. However, the Constitution recognises religious and linguistic minorities – The NCM Act defines a minority as “a community notified as such by the Central government.”
  • The NCM adheres to the United Nations Declaration of 18 December 1992 which states that “States shall protect the existence of the National or Ethnic, Cultural, Religious and Linguistic identity of minorities within their respective territories and encourage conditions for the promotion of that identity.”

Formation of the National Commission for Minorities (NCM)

  • In 1978, setting up of the Minorities Commission (MC) was envisaged in the Ministry of Home Affairs Resolution.
  • In 1984, the MC was detached from the Ministry of Home Affairs and placed under the newly created Ministry of Welfare, which excluded linguistic minorities from the Commission’s jurisdiction in 1988.
  • In 1992, with the enactment of the NCM Act, 1992, the MC became a statutory body and was renamed as the NCM.
  • In 1993, the first Statutory National Commission was set up and five religious communities viz the Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Zoroastrians (Parsis) were notified as minority communities.
  • In 2014, Jains were also notified as a minority community.

Functions of the NCM

  1. Evaluate the progress of the development of Minorities under the Union and States.
  2. Monitor the working of the safeguards provided in the Constitution and in laws enacted by Parliament and the State Legislatures.
  3. Make recommendations for the effective implementation of safeguards for the protection of the interests of Minorities by the Central Government or the State Governments.
  4. Look into specific complaints regarding deprivation of rights and safeguards of the Minorities and take up such matters with the appropriate authorities.
  5. Cause studies to be undertaken into problems arising out of any discrimination against Minorities and recommend measures for their removal.
  6. Conduct studies, research and analysis on the issues relating to socio-economic and educational development of Minorities.
  7. Suggest appropriate measures in respect of any Minority to be undertaken by the Central Government or the State Governments.
  8. Make periodical or special reports to the Central Government on any matter pertaining to Minorities and in particular the difficulties confronted by them.
  9. Any other matter which may be referred to it by the Central Government.

Composition of the NCM

  • The NCM is mandated to have seven members, including a chairperson and vice-chairperson, with a member each from the Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, Parsi and Jain communities.
  • Total of 7 persons to be nominated by the Central Government should be from amongst persons of eminence, ability and integrity. The Ministry for Minority Affairs recommends the names to the Prime Minister’s Office.
  • Each Member holds office for a period of three years from the date of assumption of office.

Constitutional Provisions

  • Article 15 and 16: Prohibition of discrimination against citizens on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. Citizens’ right to ‘equality of opportunity’ in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State, and prohibition in this regard of any discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.
  • Article 25 (1), 26 and 28: People’s freedom of conscience and right to freely profess, practise and propagate religion. Right of every religious denomination or any section to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes, manage its own religious affairs, and own and acquire property and administer it. People’s freedom as to attendance at religious instruction or religious worship in educational institutions wholly maintained, recognized, or aided by the State.
  • Article 29: It provides that any section of the citizens residing in any part of India having a distinct language, script or culture of its own, shall have the right to conserve the same. It grants protection to both religious minorities as well as linguistic minorities. However, the Supreme Court held that the scope of this article is not necessarily restricted to minorities only, as use of the word ‘section of citizens’ in the Article includes minorities as well as the majority.
  • Article 30: All minorities shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice. The protection under Article 30 is confined only to minorities (religious or linguistic) and does not extend to any section of citizens (as under Article 29).
  • Article 350-B: The 7th Constitutional (Amendment) Act 1956 inserted this article which provides for a Special Officer for Linguistic Minorities appointed by the President of India. It would be the duty of the Special Officer to investigate all matters relating to the safeguards provided for linguistic minorities under the Constitution.

-Source: The Hindu

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