AMU Minority Status | Day 1: Existence of central law no bar to minority status, petitioners argueAMU Minority Status
On 9 January 2024, a seven-judge Bench led by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud set out to determine whether Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) is a minority educational institution. The Bench, also comprising Justices Sanjiv Khanna, Surya Kant, J.B. Pardiwala, Dipankar Datta, Manoj Misra and Satish Chandra Sharma, examined if AMU should get the protection of Article 30.
Article 30 grants religious and linguistic minorities the right to “establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.”
In 1967, a five-judge Bench led by former CJI K.N. Wanchoo in S. Azeez Basha and Anr v Union of India had refused protection to AMU under Article 30. The Bench reasoned that for protection to be granted under the provision, the institution must be established by the minority itself. But, since AMU was established through a central legislation it was ineligible for a minority status.
A Bench led by former CJI Rajan Gogoi referred the case to a larger bench in 2019 to lay down the criteria for determining the minority character of educational institutions.
Dhavan: Statutory regulation cannot deprive an institution of minority status
Senior Advocate Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for AMU opened the arguments for the day. He contended that the Court’s reasoning in Azeer Basha unnecessarily gave a restrictive interpretation to the term “establish”. The Bench in Azeer Basha had concluded that the word “establish” means “to bring into existence” for the purpose of the Aligarh Muslim University Act, 1920.
AMU was established under the AMU Act of 1920. Before that, it functioned as a Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College under Allahabad University. The Bench in Azeer Basha stated “The Act may have been passed as a result of the efforts of the Muslim minority, but that does not mean that the University, when it came into being under the 1920 Act, was established by the Muslim minority.”
Dhavan contended that the mere fact that aspects of a minority educational institution are regulated by a statute is not reason enough to deprive it of minority status.
The Bench in Azeer Basha, Dhavan argued, had recognised that Muslims are a minority based on religion and that universities can be considered minority institutions. Therefore, it was arbitrary to hold that if a university is established by a statute, it cannot be considered as a minority institution.
CJI Chandrachud remarked that “being regulated by a statute does not detract it from having a minority status.” He also stated that being a minority educational institution does not imply that it cannot administer “purely secular education”. He also said that the minority institution can admit students from any community.
Pleading for AMU’s protection under Article 30, Dhavan contended that the University has students from all communities but retains a “Muslim character”. He cited the existence of mosques on the AMU campus and the majority of AMU’s highest decision-making body— “The Court” being Muslim. “The State has no right to compel minority education institutions to give up their character at all,” he concluded.
The Bench will resume arguments on 10 January 2024.
(This report will be updated)