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Chairperson & Members Of State Minorities Commission Can Be From Same Minority Community : Kerala High Court

Hannah M Varghese
19 Jan 2022 1:25 PM GMT
Chairperson & Members Of State Minorities Commission Can Be From Same Minority Community : Kerala High Court
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The Kerala High Court on Tuesday ruled that merely because the Kerala State Commission for Minorities (Amendment) Act, 2017 permits appointing Chairperson and members from the same community, it cannot be said to be conferment of unbridled power infringing rights guaranteed under Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution of India. While dismissing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL), a Division...

The Kerala High Court on Tuesday ruled that merely because the Kerala State Commission for Minorities (Amendment) Act, 2017 permits appointing Chairperson and members from the same community, it cannot be said to be conferment of unbridled power infringing rights guaranteed under Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution of India.

While dismissing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL), a Division Bench of Chief Justice S. Manikumar and Justice Shaji P. Chaly while referring to Kerala State Commission for Minorities Act and National Commission for Minorities Act observed that such an amendment did not violate any rights under Part III of the Constitution.

"Both the Acts were discussed by us since we feel that what is important is not the community of the Chairperson and members of the Commission belonging to the same minority community or different minority community, but the functions to be discharged by the members in contemplation of the provisions of the Act, 2014. Merely because the Chairperson and the member belong to one community, that would not, and cannot, In any manner, interfere with the duties and obligations in the matter of discharging the functions in contemplation of the provisions of the Act, 2014."

The petitioner, a lawyer and a member of the Roman Catholic community, had moved the Court challenging the Kerala State Commission for Minorities (Amendment) Act, 2017 on the ground that it violates Article 14 of the Constitution.

His grievance was that before the amendment, Section 3 of the Act specified that if the Chairman of the Commission is appointed from a particular minority community, the other members should be from another minority community.

Thus, when the Commission was originally constituted, a member of the Muslim Community was appointed as the Chairman and a member belonging to the Roman Catholic community was appointed as a member.

However, after the said amendment, the word 'another' in Section 3(2)(b) was substituted by 'a' thereby taking away the stipulation in the original enactment that the Chairman and member shall be from different communities.

After the term of the members originally constituted expired, the State appointed a Chairman and a woman member. Later on, on the strength of this amendment, another member of the Muslim Community was appointed as the third member. 

Senior Advocate Raju Joseph and Advocates Julian Xavier, C. Joseph Antony and Asha Treesa Jose appearing for the petitioner argued that through the amendment, the State had given unbridled power to constitute a Minority Commission under the Kerala State Commission for Minorities Act, 2014.

They pointed out that the action of the State in appointing the Chairman as well as another member from the Muslim community is arbitrary, mala fide, and negation to the interest of other minority communities.

On the other hand, Advocate General K. Gopalakrishna Kurup, Senior Government Pleader V. Manu, Advocates K. Anand, Benny Antony Parel and Ameer Salem appearing for the respondents argued that is trite and settled law that legislation can be challenged only on the grounds of lack of legislative competence, being violative of fundamental rights, and manifestly arbitrary.

It was contended that the petitioner did not have a case of there being a lack of legislative competence for the State in enacting the Amendment Act. Except for bald averments, he had not made out any legally sustainable case, as to the violation of any provision of Part III of the Constitution of India.

The respondents further argued that the petitioner did not have a case that the amendment was an instance of a capricious and irrational exercise of the legislative function without adequate determining principles, much less any manifest arbitrariness.

Moreover, the constitution of a statutory committee is a legislative policy and as long as it is not proved that such legislative policy is not in conflict with any constitutional provision, the challenge against the same is unsustainable, it was argued. 

To decide the case, the Division Bench first recalled that whatever prescriptions on the basis of religion, race etc. contained under Article 16 of the Constitution of India are restricted by the circumstances under Article 16 (2).

Then the Judges reflected upon the legislative intent behind Kerala State Commission for Minorities Act, 2014:

"In fact, the Act, 2014 was enacted by the State for the comprehensive educational advancement, welfare, protection and empowerment of Minorities and to provide for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. The aforesaid aspects contained under the preamble of the Act makes it clear that what is relevant and important by introduction of the Act is comprehensive educational advancement, welfare, protection and empowerment of minorities in the State of Kerala and not the community of the persons manning the commission."

The Court also noted that under the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992 there is no requirement at all for the Chairperson or Vice-Chairperson and members should belong to different communities. 

Therefore, it was held that the Chairperson and the member belonging to one community would not in any manner interfere with the duties and obligations in the matter of discharging the functions in contemplation of the provisions of the State Act.

The Bench also opined that under the Constitution, no appointment can be made based on religious considerations and no appointment can be denied also on that basis.

"This is for the fundamental reason that our Constitution is founded also on the principles of secularism and democracy with the freedom for liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship, equality of status and of opportunity, and to promote among them all, fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation, which is also the edict and reflection of the preamble of the Constitution," the judgment clarified.

The Court added that the purpose of the legislation was to ensure the comprehensive advancement of the minority communities in various fields:

"...what is relevant and important is the purpose for which the Commission is constituted, and not the community of the members of the Commission, which has no role to be played in discharging the functions."

The Court also noted that the Act of 2014 had to be interpreted in the broadest sense order to achieve its target rather than making a pedantic and narrow approach in the matter of appointment of the Chairperson and a member from different communities.

Finding that the petitioner failed to convince the court of his case, the PIL was dismissed.

Case Title: Justine Pallivathukkal v. State of Kerala & Ors

Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Ker) 32

Click Here To Read/Download The Judgment

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