At minority meet, PC says quota is best push forward

April 1, 2010: The Indian Express

Home Minister P Chidambaram today told a conference of state minority commissions that ¶reservation is the most effective instrument that we have today¶ on affirmative action.

Chidambaram’s Cabinet colleague and Minority Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid went a step further, saying the Congress was committed to giving backward Muslims a share in the reservation list for backward classes as it was a promise the party had made in its election manifesto.

The statements by the two ministers comes at a time when Muslim leaders are demanding implementation of the Ranganath Misra commission report which had suggested 15 per cent reservation for minorities in government employment and education.

Last week, the Supreme Court allowed Andhra Pradesh to offer four per cent reservation in education and jobs to the backward among Muslims till a Constitution Bench decides whether the state law is ¶religion specific¶ or a piece of social welfare legislation.

Addressing the conference, Chidambaram said: ¶Reservation is perhaps the most effective instrument of affirmative action that we have been able to forge. If there is a better instrument, we should certainly debate that instrument. But I believe that reservation is the most effective instrument that we have today.¶

He said the reports of the Justice Sachar committee and Ranganath Misra commission and the study by Satish Deshpande (on Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians commissioned by the National Commission for Minorities) had highlighted the ¶dark aspects¶ of society, polity and economy and each one in its own way had pointed the usefulness and limits of reservation.

He said the debate for reservation must, however, take into account aspects like reservation for socially, educationally and economically backward classes which are sanctified in the Constitution, the desirability and need for compartmental reservation and the ceiling on reservation placed by Supreme Court.

While factoring in these aspects, ¶we must find ways and means by which reservation can be used as an instrument to advance affirmative action,¶ said Chidambaram.

He also said that a new law to deal with communal violence would become a reality this year. He said there is an ¶urgent need to dispel any misgiving on the part of the minority community and assure them that the Government of India is committed to preserve, protect and promote secular values and provide equality of opportunity to all religious minorities.¶

While Khurshid spoke about the Congress’s poll commitment to include backward Muslims in the OBC list, it could prove to be a double-edged sword for the Congress. While the Muslim leadership has already shot down the idea, giving backward Muslims a share in the OBC quota could anger the backward classes who enjoy reservation benefits.

According to Khurshid, it was time to ¶go beyond reservation¶ and think about affirmative action. He said backward Muslims could benefit from affirmative action as it has benefited Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

He said the government also favoured a ¶fresh look¶ at the Supreme Court restriction on the government for notifying any community as national minority — an indication that it wants inclusion of more communities in such a list.

His Ministry, Khurshid said, wanted to declare a district as Minority Concentrated District even if it has 15 per cent of such population. At present, any district should have 25 per cent minority population to make it eligible for being declared a Minority Concentrated District.

¶We hope one day we will be able to convince ourselves, our colleagues and our Prime Minister that we bring the level from 25 per cent to 15 per cent as a cut-off perhaps in the next plan,¶ Khurshid said. ¶If that happens another 40 to 45 districts would easily be added to the 90 Minority Concentrated Districts that we have today.¶

On declaring more communities as national minorities, Khurshid said the Central government faces constraints in doing so because of a Supreme Court order.

The Supreme Court judgment ¶has put a restriction on the Central government notifying any minorities. We have notified five minorities under the National Minority Commission Act… It seems like a legal lacunae in which we have notified five but cannot notify any more. I think this calls for a fresh look to see if this issue can be sorted out,¶he said.

He said Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis have been notified as national minorities but the Centre is now unable to notify any more national minority even if it was found it was necessary to do so.

¶As a result, some of our schemes are in a sense handicapped as we cannot directly assist any other minorities besides these five,¶ he said, adding there were recommendations by the NCM for giving national minority status to including the Jain community as well.

¶State governments have the right to notify and many state governments have… like Delhi and Madhya Pradesh have notified,¶ he said.


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