Expressing displeasure over its changing stands, the Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Centre to take a decision on identification of minorities including Hindus at the State level within three months.
A bench of Justices S K Kaul and MM Sundresh directed the Centre to consult the States. The Centre had in March said that it was for the States and Union Territories (UTs) to take a call on whether or not to grant minority status to Hindus and other communities where they are less in number.
But, on Monday, the Centre told the apex court that the power to notify minorities is vested with the Union Government and any decision in this regard will be taken after discussion with States and other stakeholders. “Later, you say the Centre has powers. In a country like ours, which has so much diversification, we understand but somebody should have been more careful. Before these affidavits are filed everything is in public domain which has its own consequences. Therefore, you have to be more careful in what you say,” the bench observed.
Dictating its order, the bench said, ”A fresh affidavit has been filed by the Ministry of Minority Affairs which seems to back out what was said in the earlier affidavit. Something we don't appreciate. It is now sought to be stated that the question sought to be adjudicated has far reaching ramifications throughout the country.
“The stand has already been taken in the first affidavit. But as per fresh affidavit, the power is vested with the Central government to identify minorities…Aforesaid being the position, it is necessary that the exercise is taken by the Centre as proposed. List on August 30,” the bench said while seeking a status report three days before the hearing.
As the hearing commenced, a junior counsel sought pass over saying that Solicitor General Tushar Mehta was busy in some other court. “What I am unable to understand is Union of India is not able to decide what to do. All this thought should have been given before. This creates uncertainty and all this comes into public domain before we put our eyes on it. This creates another problem.
”If the Centre wants to consult states, we will have to take a call. Solution can't be that everything is so complex, we will do so. This cannot be the answer from the Government of India. You decide what you want to do. If you want to consult them do it. Who is stopping you from doing so,” asked the Judges.
The apex court had earlier granted four weeks to the Centre to respond to a plea, which has sought directions for framing of guidelines for the identification of minorities at the state level, contending that Hindus are in minority in 10 states. In an affidavit filed in response to a plea filed by advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, the Ministry of Minority Affairs said the central government has notified six communities as minority communities under section 2C of the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992.
Upadhyay had challenged the validity of section 2(f) of the National Commission for Minority Education Institution Act, 2004, alleging that it gives unbridled power to the Centre and termed it "manifestly arbitrary, irrational, and offending". Section 2(f) of the Act empowers the Centre to identify and notify minority communities in India..