Hyderabad/New Delhi: In a setback to the Congress party, the Andhra Pradesh high court on Monday struck down the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s proposal to provide a separate sub-quota for minorities that was part of its strategy to woo Muslim votes before state elections earlier this year.
The proposal sought to create a sub-quota of 4.5% within the 27% quota for other backward castes (OBCs).
The court in its judgement took exception to the rationale applied by the Union government while introducing the sub-quota. The bench headed by chief justice Madan Lokur expressed its “anguish” and slammed the UPA for the “casual manner in which the entire issue is taken by the central government”.
The judgement, critical of the classification of religious groups for special treatment, said that the court had “no option but to set aside” the proposed quota.
The Congress declined to comment on the order. “You cannot react to court judgements until you have perused, read, understood and appreciated....If there is a reaction called for, we will get back to you,” Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari told reporters.
However, the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, which had been vehemently opposed to the proposal, welcomed the judgement. A spokesperson said that its stand had been vindicated.
“The central government arbitrarily cut the OBC quota by 4.5% and allotted (this) to minorities as sub-quota, keeping in view the Uttar Pradesh elections,” said R. Krishnaiah, who had filed the public interest litigation (PIL) and is also the leader of Andhra Pradesh State Backward Classes Welfare Association. “We have no problem if the minorities are given reservation separately, but it should not be at the cost of OBCs. We thought it is anti-constitutional and challenged the government’s decision in the court.”
The Congress in December, ahead of the polls in Uttar Pradesh, had announced that it was providing a 4.5% reservation for minorities in the 27% OBC reservation for jobs and seats in educational institutions. The controversy over the quota escalated after Union law minister Salman Khurshid told a public rally that his party would provide a 9% quota for backward Muslims within the 27% reservation for OBCs if it came to power in the state. The Samajwadi Party, which won the state elections, had also proposed a similar quota for minorities. The judgement also said that the recommendations of the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities (NCRLM), based on which the sub-quota was justified by the Union government, was “misplaced and inappropriate”.
“The application of mind by the NCRLM is to a completely different issue altogether and, therefore, by relying solely on the report of the NCRLM, the central government has failed to apply its mind to the constitutional requirements...In our opinion, reliance on the report of the NCRLM is misplaced and inappropriate,” the two-member bench said.
The NCRLM submitted its report in 2007.
The court also said the UPA “unfortunately” did not consider “huge demographic changes” in the country while formulating the proposal. It highlighted that the “classification of these religious minorities as a homogenous group or as more backward classes deserving of some special treatment” could not be justified either.
“We must, therefore, hold that Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Zoroastrians (Parsis) do not form a homogeneous group but a heterogeneous group,” the court observed.