A Supreme Court Constitution Bench on Monday decided to examine whether a religious community should be granted minority status in a State where they are both numerically strong and suffer no apprehension of being "dominated" by others.
The case may see the Supreme Court take a re-look at the circumstances in which a State Government declares a community as a religious or linguistic minority.
The five-judge Constitution Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Tirath Singh Thakur, has appointed senior advocate T.R. Andhyarujina as amicus curiae and asked the Centre to be impleaded in the case.
The case concerns a challenge by Shiromani Gurudwara Prabhandak Committee (SGPC) of a Punjab and Haryana High Court judgment of December 2007 stayed later by the apex court.
A Division Bench of the High Court had quashed notifications issued by the State government granting minority status to SGPC-run educational institutions. The notifications had allowed SGPC to reserve 50 per cent seats in its institutions for students from the Sikh community.
The High Court rejected the minority status to Sikhs in Punjab on the grounds that the community was numerically strong. Moreover, it held that the Punjab government had produced no material to show that Sikhs “apprehended deprivation of their religious, cultural or educational rights in the State of Punjab from any other community, who may be in majority and who may gain political power in the elections.”
“So the issue here is whether Sikhs are a minority or a majority in Punjab?....This is a serious issue,” Chief Justice Thakur observed.
The Constitution Bench drew a parallel between the High Court's conclusion in 2007 and the Supreme Court judgment in the 2005 Bal Patil case concerning the religious minority status of Jains.
In the Bal Patil judgment, the Supreme Court had held that a community should be protected as a minority only if there was an apprehension that the community may be “dominated” by other communities.
“Minority as understood from constitutional scheme signifies an identifiable group of people or community who were seen as deserving protection from likely deprivation of their religious, cultural and educational rights by other communities who happen to be in majority and likely to gain political power in a democratic form of Government based on election,” the 2005 Patil judgment by then Chief Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah had observed.
Senior advocate K.K. Venugopal, whom the Bench consulted in open court, agreed with the court's endeavour to provide clarity on the circumstances in which State governments can grant minority status to communities on religious and linguistic basis.
In this regard, the Constitution Bench also referred to how the 11-judge Bench in the historic 2002 T.M.A. Pai Foundation judgment held that it is the State, and not the whole of India, which has to be considered as a “unit” for determining a community as a religious or linguistic minority.
“The State has to be regarded as the unit for determining "linguistic minority" vis-à-vis Article 30, then with 'religious minority' being on the same footing, it is the State in relation to which the majority or minority status will have to be determined,” the 2002 judgment had observed.
Senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, for SGPC, argued that SGPC-run educational institutions granted admission to Sikh students from other States where the community is a minority.
The case has been posted after four weeks for detailed hearing.