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PoliticsIndiaModi govt needs more time to decide if Hindus must get minority...

Modi govt needs more time to decide if Hindus must get minority status in some states

The union government today requested the Supreme Court to give it more time to finalise its opinion on granting minority status to Hindus in states and union territories where they are outnumbered by other communities. The Narendra Modi government said, submitting its affidavit, the process of consulting states and union territories to grant Hindus the minority status was underway and that it would require more time to convey to the court its stand on the matter.

The Modi government had in March taken a stand before a bench led by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul that both union and state governments had the power to accord minority status to a community. Two months later, it withdrew from this position and sought time to carry out a “wide consultation” with states and other stakeholders.

The 29 August affidavit said that the union government had held meetings with the governments of Nagaland, Punjab, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, along with the union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. While some of these states and union territories had furnished their comments, the majority of them were yet to take a position, the affidavit, which was filed through the Union Ministry of Minority Affairs, said.

The Modi government wants to wait for the views of Nagaland, Jammu and Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh since “the issue may have wider ramifications” in these states and union territories.

The ministry has proposed to hold meetings in the ensuing weeks with the remaining states in order to have their views, said the affidavit pleading for more time.

The ministry filed the affidavit in connection with a petition by advocate Ashwini Upadhyay, who is also a Delhi BJP leader. He challenged the validity of Section 2(f) of the National Commission for Minorities Educational Institutions (NCMEI) Act on the ground that it gave unbridled powers to the union government to restrict minority benefits to the notified six religious communities — Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis and Jains.

Filed through advocate Ashwani Dubey, the said that Hindus were merely 1% in Ladakh, 2.75% in Mizoram, 2.77% in Lakshadweep, 4% in Jammu and Kashmir, 8.74% in Nagaland, 11.52% in Meghalaya, 29% in Arunachal Pradesh, 38.49% in Punjab and 41.29% in Manipur.

In May, a bench led by justice Kaul had allowed the union government time till 30 August to consult stakeholders and submit a report on whether minority status could be given to Hindus based on their population within a state.

The 10 May court order followed the Modi government's statement that it would initiate a “wide consultation” with states and other stakeholders to examine whether Hindus could be granted minority status in states where their numbers were less than those of other communities.

The Modi government sought time for deliberation while withdrawing its previous stand in March when it had sought to get Upadhyay’s writ petition dismissed and defended the 1992 NCM Act and the 2004 NCMEI Act.

In its first affidavit filed in March, the union government put the onus on states and union territories (union territories) to take a call on whether or not to grant minority status to Hindus where they are numerically less, adding that both the union and the states had the legislative authority to enact laws on the protection of minorities.

While withdrawing its previous affidavit in May, the Modi government conceded that the question involved in the petition had 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 May affidavit underlined that although the power is vested with the central government to notify minorities, the stand to be formulated by the union government pertaining to issues raised in the batch of petitions on the issue will be finalised after wide consultations with the state governments and other stakeholders.

Earlier this month, another petition on a similar issue came up before a bench led by Justice Uday Umesh Lalit, which observed that the apex court could not issue a general directive to declare Hindus as a minority in states, pointing out that the determination of minority status depended on several empirical factors and statistics that put the exercise outside the judicial domain.

In its affidavit today, the union government referred to the pendency of the other matter before the bench led by Justice Lalit, who is now the CJI.

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