Section 2(f) of The National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions Act, 2004 (NCMEI Act) empowers the Centre to identify and notify minority communities in India. This minority status is crucial for claiming benefits conferred by the Constitution and other laws.
The petitioner, Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, an advocate and politician, filed a petition under Article 32 of the Constitution of India, 1950 challenging Section 2(f) of the NCMEI Act. In his petition, he argued that S 2(f) violates various fundamental rights including Articles 14, 15, 21, 29 and 30. He asserted that the state governments must be entrusted with identifying minorities as they are best equipped to determine religious and linguistic composition. The use of nation as a metric to identify minority communities would disadvantage several communities including, Hindus, Bahais and Jews, which are in minority in several states are disadvantaged.
What Does the Petitioner Seek?
The petitioner urged the Court to declare Section 2(f) of the NCMEI Act void. Alternatively declare followers of Judaism, Bahaism and Hinduism in a state where they are in minority as minority communities. Further, if the Court may direct the Centre to lay down guidelines for identification of minority at the State level.
Grounds of Challenge
Violation of the Right to Equality
The petitioner stated that an overarching declaration of “minority” at the national level would be arbitrary to those communities which constitute a smaller population in a particular state while having a larger proportion nationally, such as the Hindus in certain states such as Kashmir and Nagaland. He asserted that the Section does not pass the test of equality under Article 15: this article requires a rational nexus between the classification and objective of the law. In the current case, a community that forms a majority in a state is not being placed similarly to a community in a minority nationally.
Minority Rights Undermined
Article 29 of the Constitution of India, 1950 secures the cultural and educational rights of minorities. Article 30 empowers minorities to establish and run educational institutions. The petitioner argued that the communities in each state in which they are in a minority are denied these fundamental rights.
Moreover, the right to life under Article 21 includes the right to avail benefits. By denying constitutionally and legally envisaged benefits to communities who are in a minority in a state, their right to life is violated.