If the Supreme Court decides to await the Commission report, expected within two years, it would mean that it leaves the question of discrimination in the Union Government’s decision to include only Dalits who converted to Sikhism and Buddhism as being eligible for reservations for Dalits, open. If, on the contrary, the court goes ahead to decide the legal issue of whether there is any discrimination in the present scheme against those Dalits who converted to Christianity and Islam, it can influence the outcome of the Balakrishnan Commission Report.
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THE Supreme Court on Wednesday adjourned to January next year a batch of petitions seeking reservations for those Dalits who converted to Islam and Christianity. The Court said it would first decide whether it should await the report of an Inquiry Commission under the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952 headed by former Chief Justice of India (CJI) K.G. Balakrishnan in this regard.
A three-judge bench comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Abhay S. Oka and Vikram Nath passed the order to this effect after Solicitor General(SG) Tushar Mehta told the Court that the government has not accepted the 2007 report submitted by National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, headed by former CJI Ranganath Mishra, which had recommended 10 per cent reservations for Muslims and five per cent reservations for other minorities in government jobs, and favoured extending SC status to Dalits of all religions.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, for the petitioner CPIL, submitted that the Presidential Orders issued from time to time under Article 341 of the Constitution. mandating that no person professing a religion different from Hinduism, Sikhism or Buddhism can be deemed to be a member of Scheduled Caste, is wholly discriminatory and unconstitutional. He added that one can’t discriminate on the basis of religion and that the petition raises a legal issue that does not require awaiting the outcome of a commission’s report.
Senior advocate Raju Ramachandran, for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, an intervening party, supported the petition filed by Central for Public Interest Litigation(CPIL). Senior advocate C.U. Singh appearing for another intervenor also opposed the Presidential orders in the existing form.
On October 7, the Union Government set up an Inquiry Commission under the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952 to examine the matter of according Scheduled Caste (‘SC’) status to new persons, who claim to historically have belonged to the SCs, but have converted to a religion other than those mentioned in the Presidential Orders issued from time to time under Article 341 of the Constitution. The Constitution(Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950, under Article 341, mandates that no person professing a religion different from Hinduism, Sikhism or Buddhism can be deemed to be a member of a Scheduled Caste.
The Commission is headed by former Chief Justice of India (‘CJI’) K.G. Balakrishnan, and comprises former Indian Administrative Service officer, Dr. Ravinder Kumar Jain and University Grants Commission member, Prof. (Dr.) Sushma Yadav, as its members.
The Commission is to examine the implications of adding such new persons into the existing list of SCs, besides examining the changes SC persons go through on converting to other religions in terms of their customs, traditions, social and other status discrimination and deprivation.
The government has asked the commission to submit its report within two years.
The government’s order states that “given its importance, sensitivity and potential impact, any change in definition in this regard should be on the basis of a detailed and definitive study and extensive consultation with all stakeholders.” The order states that no Commission under the Commissions of Inquiry Act has so far inquired into the matter.
At present, the SC community is provided with 15 per cent reservation for direct recruitment in union government jobs, election to legislatures, and admission in public universities.