SC seeks religion-wise data on students in key educational institutions

| Updated: 31 January, 2024 4:01 pm IST

NEW DELHI : The Supreme Court has requested the Centre Government to provide religion-wise data of students studying in institutions deemed to be of national importance. The directive comes after the government argued that Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) cannot claim minority status based on its special character as an educational institution. 

The seven-judge Constitution bench, led by Chief Justice Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, called on the Centre to present statistics supporting its claim that no other institution of national importance has a religious minority as a dominant group.

“Do you have the data regarding that? There is no question of reservation in such institutions because it’s barred under Article 15 (prohibiting discrimination based on religion),” the bench, which also comprised justices Sanjiv Khanna, Surya Kant, JB Pardiwala, Dipankar Datta, Manoj Misra and Satish Chandra Sharma, observed.

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The bench emphasised the need for data to determine if any religious group dominates institutions of national importance and asserted that reservations are prohibited in such institutions under Article 15, which prohibits discrimination based on religion.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, argued that granting minority status to AMU contradicts principles of social justice and equality. He maintained that institutions of national importance must exhibit diversity, and granting minority status to AMU could exempt it from reserving seats for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes, and Economically Weaker Sections.

“If AMU, despite being one of the finest universities would not have reservation for ST/SC/ OBC and would have at least 50 per cent reservation for Muslims, a deserving candidate of SC/ST community would not have reservation but a person having all economic resources at his command will have entitlement to this institution based only on religion,” contended the law officer, arguing on the sixth day of the hearing related to AMU’s minority status.

Mehta informed the court that there are 165 institutions of national importance, and the court requested a breakdown of their religious composition, with the government committing to provide the information in the coming days.

The Supreme Court is addressing a series of petitions challenging a 1967 judgment in the Azeez Basha case, which declared that AMU was not a minority institution. The case involves amendments to the AMU Act in 1981, aimed at granting minority status to the university. The Allahabad High Court invalidated these amendments in 2006, leading to a legal dispute. The Centre, in 2016, sought to withdraw its appeal supporting AMU’s minority status, asserting that it agrees with the 1967 judgment.

The court will continue hearing the case, addressing issues related to AMU’s minority status and the criteria for availing entitlements under the Constitution.

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