AMU Minority Status
Aligarh Muslim University Through its Registrar Faizan Mustafa v Naresh Agarwal
The Court will determine whether Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) will be able to retain its status as a Minority Institution
D.Y. Chandrachud CJI
Sanjiv Khanna J
Surya Kant J
J.B. Pardiwala J
Dipankar Datta J
Manoj Misra J
S.C. Sharma J
Appellant: Aligarh Muslim University Through its Registrar Faizan Mustafa
Lawyers: Sr. Adv Dr Rajeev Dhawan; Sr. Adv. Nikhil Nayyar; Sr. Adv. Raju Ramachandran; Adv. T. V. S. Raghavendra Sreyas; Adv. Sushma Suri; Adv. Prashant Bhushan; Adv. Ramesh Kumar Mishra; Adv. Aftab Ali Khan; Adv. Mohan Pandey
Respondent: Naresh Agarwal through Laxmi Chandra Agarwal; Union of India through Secretary; Director General of Health Services; Director of Higher Education; Medical Council of India
Lawyers: R. Venkatramani, Attorney General; Tushar Mehta, Solicitor General; Adv. R. C. Kohli; Adv. Gurmeet Singh Makker; Adv. Gaurav Sharma; Adv. Anup Kumar; Adv. Ejaz Maqbool; Adv. Abhinav Mukerji
What are the parameters for granting an educational institution Minority Status under Article 30 of the Constitution?
Can an educational institution created by a parliamentary statute enjoy Minority Status under Article 30 of the Constitution?
In 1877, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, a Muslim reformer of the 19th century, founded the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College (MAO College) at Aligarh. Through this institution, he sought to popularise modern British education among Muslim society while carefully balancing and protecting Islamic values and principles. Despite being an institute mainly for persons of the Islamic faith, MAO College was open to other communities as well.
On 14 September 1920, the Aligarh Muslim University Act, 1920 (AMU Act) was passed to incorporate the MAO College and another Muslim University Association into a single University named the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). According to Section 23 of the AMU Act, the Court of the University, the governing body of the university, must only consist of persons belonging to the Islamic faith.
In 1951, the AMU Act was amended to do away with the compulsory religious education provided to Muslim students by the University. Further, the amendment removed the provision which mandated only Muslim representation in the Court of the University. Later, the Act was amended in 1965. The Court was no longer the supreme governing body of the AMU. It became a body whose members were nominated by the Visitor (the President of India). The powers were distributed among other bodies of the University like the Executive to democratise the management.
Petitioners in S. Azeez Basha and Anr v Union of India (1967) argued that the amendment violated their right to establish and administer educational institutions under Article 30 (1) of the Constitution of India. Further, they contended that the amendments violated the institution’s right to carry out religious and charitable causes (Article 26(a)), the freedom of religion (Article 25), the right to conserve culture and language (Article 29), and the right to acquire property (Article 31).
On 20 October 1967, a five-judge bench, comprising Chief Justice K.N. Wanchoo and Justices R.S. Bachawat, V Ramaswami, G.K. Mitter and K.S. Hegde, held that no fundamental rights of the petitioners were violated and upheld the amendment. The Bench reasoned that AMU was neither established nor administered by the Muslim minority. Pointing out that the Act was enacted through a Central Legislation, the Court stated, “It may be that the 1920-Act was passed as a result of the efforts of the Muslim minority. But that does not mean that the Aligarh University when it came into being under the 1920-Act was established by the Muslim minority.” They held that the provisions of the Act “clearly show” that the administration of AMU was not “vested in the Muslim minority”.
In 1981, the Act was amended to redefine ‘university’ as an educational institution “established by the Muslims of India” which was initially MAO College and later became AMU. Powers of the University under Section 5 were amended to include a new clause for promoting the educational and cultural advancement of the “Muslims of India”.
In 2005, the AMU reserved 50% seats in postgraduate medical courses for Muslim candidates by claiming it to be a minority institution. This was challenged in Dr. Naresh Agarwal v Union of India (2005). The petitioners relied on S. Azeez Basha to argue that AMU is not a minority institution. The Union and the University contended that S. Azeez Basha was nullified by the 1981 amendment. Therefore, it can make provisions for the benefit of Muslim students. The Allahabad High Court struck down the reservation policy and held that the AMU could not have an exclusive reservation because it was not a minority institution according to S. Azeez Basha.
In 2006, the Union government and the University challenged the High Court decision in the Supreme Court. On 24 April 2006, a Division Bench of Justices K.G. Balakrishnan and D.K. Jain put a stay on the reservation policy of the AMU. The constitutionality of the policy was referred to a larger bench to decide.
In 2016, the National Democratic Alliance government, elected to the Union in 2014 withdrew from the appeal contending that it does not acknowledge the minority status of the University. The University pleads its case alone.
On 12 February 2019, a three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices L. Nageswara Rao and Sanjiv Khanna referred the decision in S. Azeez Basha for reconsideration by a seven-judge bench.
On 12 October 2023, the matter was listed before CJI D.Y. Chandrachud who constituted a seven-judge bench consisting of himself, and Justices S.K. Kaul, Sanjiv Khanna, B.R. Gavai, Surya Kant, J.B. Pardiwala, and Manoj Misra, to hear the matter.