New Delhi: A panel headed by former chief justice Ranganath Misra has recommended wide-ranging affirmative action, including quotas for Muslims, Christians and other religious minorities in educational institutions, government jobs and employment programmes, and suggested that the scheduled caste (SC) net be made “fully religion-neutral”.
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The National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, formed in March 2005, has proposed that 15% of posts in “all cadres and grades under the Central and state governments” be earmarked for such minorities in a report that one social scientist said could trigger a backlash.
Within the 15%, the commission suggested that 10% be set aside for Muslims, in line with their 73% share in the total minority population. If there aren’t enough Muslims to fill the 10%, the vacancies can be filled by members of other minorities, but in no case by the majority community, it said.
“Yet, should there be some insurmountable difficulty in implementing this recommendation”, the commission suggested carving out an 8.4% sub-quota for such religious minorities within the 27% reservation for other backward classes (OBCs). The 8.4% is in line with an estimate of religious minorities as a proportion of the OBC population. Within the sub-quota, 6% should be earmarked for Muslims and the remainder for other religious minorities, it said.
Mint reviewed a copy of the commission’s recommendations, which have not yet been made public by the government. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Wednesday that the report would be presented in Parliament during the current session, PTI reported. Newspaper Mail Today ran a story about the recommendations on Thursday.
The five-member commission was appointed in March 2005 during the first term of the Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance government. The report was submitted on 22 May 2007.
“Since the minorities—especially the Muslims—are very much under-represented, and sometimes wholly unrepresented, in government employment , we recommend that they should be regarded as backward in this respect...,” the commission said.
The panel recommended that at least 15% of seats in all non-minority educational institutions be earmarked by law for the minorities, with 10% going to the Muslims. Minority candidates who can compete with others and secure admission on their own merit shall not be included in the 15%.
It proposed that a 15% share be set apart for the minorities—with 10% going to the Muslims—in government schemes such as the Rural Employment Generation Programme, Prime Minister’s Rozgar Yojna and Grameen Rozgar Yojna, among others.
In addition, the panel recommended amending the Constitution (Schedule Castes) Order, 1950, which originally restricted the SC net to Hindus and later was opened to include Sikhs and Buddhists, but still excludes Muslims, Christians, Jains and Parsis, among others.
The commission recommended that the order be “wholly deleted by appropriate action so as to completely de-link the scheduled caste status from religion and make the scheduled castes net fully religion-neutral like that of the scheduled tribes.”
This recommendation of the commission is, however, not unanimous. Asha Das, member-secretary of the commission, gave a note of dissent. The Constitution Order was religion-based and, “therefore, the condition of religion” should not be deleted, Das said in her note.
The Misra panel consisted of Tahir Mahmood, former chairman of the National Commission for Minorities; Anil Wilson, former principal of St Stephen’s College, Delhi; and Punjabi scholar Mohinder Singh, apart from Das and Misra.
“We have found no indication whatsoever in the Constitution...of an intention that scheduled castes must remain confined to any particular religion or religions,” Mahmood said in a rejoinder endorsed by Misra, Wilson and Mohinder Singh.
The recommendations of the commission, likely to tabled in Parliament together with an action taken report by the government, are set to be strongly opposed by the main Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“It is not only unconstitutional, but it would also encourage conversions. We would oppose any move towards reservations for Dalit Christians and Muslims,” said BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar.
Some social scientists also disagree with the recommendations.
“Reservation is not a poverty alleviation programme. There could be many other ways to enhance the condition of a deprived community,” said Vivek Kumar, associate professor at the Centre for the Study of Social Systems at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University. “The reservations for Dalits are in place by virtue of their qualitative and structural position in the Hindu class system for ages and is best not to be diluted by moves like this.”
Kumar also warned that the implementation of the suggested quotas could trigger a backlash and “may prove counterproductive for the greater aim of maintaining amity among different strata in the society, which is a must for any social progress”.
Minority communities have for long sought such affirmative action.
“The plight of a Dalit is due to the larger social status and is irrespective of the religious considerations. We strongly feel that justice to minority Dalits and backwards are close at hand and cannot be denied for long,” said Babu Joseph, a spokesperson for the Catholic Bishops Conference of India.
Graphics by Sandeep Bhatnagar / Mint