The Centre today informed the Supreme Court that a high level committee comprising of senior officials of the state and central government has been constituted take a considered decision on formation of a minority commission for Jammu and Kashmir.
It is headed by Union Secretary, Minority Affairs, Chief Secretary J&K and other members has been constituted pursuant to the last Supreme Court Order. One meeting has also been convened, the Centre told a bench headed by Chief Justice J S Khehar.
The mandate of the committee is to submit a joint proposal before Supreme Court suggesting as to how problems faced by Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians of J&K owing to their non identification as minorities shall be resolved.
On March 27 the court had asked representatives of Centre and Jammu and Kashmir government to sit together and take a considered decision on formation of a minority commission for the state
Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appearing for the Centre had said it is being examined and said state minority commission exists in many states. Chief Justice J S khehar had then told him that it is a very very important issue, given the manner in which things have emerged and the nature of the petition before the court.
“Deal with the contentious issue jointly”, Chief Justice J S Khehar told Mehta and senior lawyer and former ASG who appeared for the Jammu and Kashmir state government.
The hearing took place after Jammu and Kashmir government in an affidavit told the Supreme Court that it is opposed to creation of a minority commission in the state.
“Assertion of the PIL petitioner for setting up a state minority commission of the state of jammu and Kashmir through proper legislation including time-bound identification and notification of religious and linguistic minorities by the state is also not legally maintainable. It is for the concerned state/union territory to set up a minority commission in their respective state/union territory”, said the government’s affidavit.
The affidavit filed by Abdul Majid Bhat, Law Secretary of the state government came in a public interest litigation filed by a Jammu-based lawyer Ankur Sharma seeking a direction to set up a minority commission in the state to safeguard the interests of religious and linguistic minorities.
The PIL said according to the 2011 census, about 68.3 per cent of the state's population are Muslims. Among the minorities, 28.4 per cent are Hindus, followed by Sikhs (1.9 per cent), Buddhists (0.9 per cent), and Christians (0.3 per cent). In Kashmir valley, about 96.4 per cent are Muslims, followed by Hindus (2.45 per cent), Sikhs (0.98 per cent) and others (0.17 per cent).
Sharma argued that Hindus in Jammu and Kashmir are unable to benefit from central and state welfare schemes for minorities.
In the absence of a minority commission, the benefits exclusively meant for the minority communities including crores worth aid are being given away to a certain community, which is the majority Muslim community, in an illegal and arbitrary manner,” said the PIL.
But the state government’s affidavit said:“Law is well settled on the issue that the apex court cannot direct the government to legislate on a particular subject. It is for the state legislature to consider in its wisdom as to which laws are required to be made considering the circumstances prevailing in the state”.
Questioning the PIL petitioner’s motive, the affidavit went on to say: “As per information available, the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Himacal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Orissa, , Sikkim, Andaman, and several UTs have not set up a minority commission. The present petition only seeks its establishment in Jammu and Kashmir. In case the present petition has been filed in public interest, he should have prayed for its setting up in all these states”
The Union government indirectly recognises Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Christians of Jammu and Kashmir as “minorities”.
This is in spite of the fact that the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992, is not applicable to J&K - and thus the recognition of Muslims as “minorities” is whimsical and illegal, the plea said.
The Union Ministry of Minority Affairs has awarded 717 out of the 753 available scholarships to the majority community in Jammu and Kashmir.
Constitutional guarantees under Article 29 and 30 (rights of minorities) are no guarantees at all in Jammu and Kashmir due to the government's failure to identify religious and linguistic minorities and declare them as notifiedminorities, said the PIL.
Rights and benefits due to the minorities are being siphoned off arbitrarily and illegally, it added.
The litigant wants the Supreme Court to demand the setting-up of a state minority commission to identify religious and linguistic minorities, or to appoint a panel of experts under its supervision to submit a report on the religious and linguistic minority communities of Jammu and Kashmir.
The plea also wants a direction to extend the National Commission for Minorities to Jammu and Kashmir.