Sromona Bhattacharyya Bhattacharyya
Hailing from Kolkata and now a resident of Bengaluru, Sromona is a multimedia journalist who has a knack for digging stories that truly deserve attention.
Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) has found itself amidst fresh controversies, but this time it has to do with the much-debated issue of minority status. While citing previous judgements on the issue of the varsity’s minority tag, the National Commission for Scheduled Caste has claimed that AMU is not a minority institution and has raised questions on its failure to provide reservation to students belonging to SC/ST category, as given by all other central universities. The Commission has even given AMU time till August 2018, to prove its minority status.
The issue of SC/ST reservation in AMU gained momentum after Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath demanded a quota for Dalit students in minority institutions like AMU and Jamia Millia Islamia.
AMU claims that it is a minority institution as guaranteed under AMU Act 1981, which exempts it from reserving seats for people belonging to the SC/ST category under Article 15(1) of the Indian Constitution. Nearly a century after the university was established in 1920; it continues the fight to retain its minority status. The debate goes back to at least 1967 when this issue, for the first time was contested before the Supreme court.
To understand the ongoing struggle between the National Commission for Scheduled Caste and AMU, it is essential to comprehend the complex nature of the university’s present-day status as well as the history that precedes it.
Article 30(1) of the Indian Constitution states, “All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.” Additionally, section 2(g) of the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions Act passed in 2004 defines a ‘Minority Educational Institution’ as an institution established and administered by a minority or minorities. Any educational institution which falls within the ambit of this article is exempted from the purview of any special law relating to the admission to educational institutions made by the state for socially and economically backward classes of citizens or for SC/ST.
With these provisions in place, present-day AMU should be considered a ‘Minority Educational Institution’. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, with the aim of uplifting the status of Muslims in India, had set up the predecessor of present-day AMU, Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College in 1875. In 1920, after negotiations with the British, Aligarh Muslim University was established after dissolving Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College, Aligarh and the Muslim University Associations.
However, Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Act, 2006 under section 2(d) calls for reservation in admission to central education institutions which are either established, maintained or aided by the Central government. Hence, universities like AMU and deemed universities would fall within its provisions. It states that there shall be 15% reservation for SC, 7.5% for ST and 27% for OBC out of the total strength in each branch of study or faculty. This Act also talks of exceptions, granted to Minority Educational Institutions which seems to be the point of contention.
After India gained independence, the parliament passed two amendments to the AMU Act of 1920. The first one was in 1951 and the second in 1965, to ensure that the act did not violate the principles of the new constitution.
These amendments brought in a myriad of changes in the inner workings of the university and also widened the scope and powers of the Executive Council. It was then that the AMU pleaded in front of the apex court and said that these amendments violated the rights guaranteed under article 30 (1).
After AMU filed a petition in 1966, in 1967, the Supreme Court in its landmark Azeez Basha judgement stated that AMU in 1920 was set up by Central Legislature and the Government of India and not by members of the Muslim Community and hence, it cannot enjoy the status of a minority institution.
After almost 14 years of debates and deliberation, the Parliament in 1981 passed the amendment to the AMU Act which restored its minority status. The AMU authorities cited this in July 2018 when the Commission asked it to furnish documents proving its minority status. The debate over the varsity’s minority tag did not end in 1981.
In 2005, the question of AMU’s minority status resurfaced, and so did the issue of whether it is allowed to offer reservation to Muslim students only. This happened after the AMU authorities had reserved 25% of the seats in media courses for Muslims while the rest was to be divided between Muslims and others equally. The Allahabad High Court, after reviewing the petition, upheld the earlier SC verdict of 1967 and stated the 1981 amendment as invalid. Both the AMU authorities and the then UPA I government challenged the Allahabad High Court verdict.
However, the present NDA government has withdrawn the petition that was filed by the UPA I government and has been pushing for a non-minority status as well. As reported by The Indian Express, AMU Vice-Chancellor Tariq Mansoor said, “The amendment was overturned by the Allahabad High Court, but the Supreme Court in 2005 stayed the High Court order and therefore the amendment Act is still in force. Since the AMU hasn’t reserved a single seat for Muslims, there is no question of making any reservation for any community. In November 2017, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes itself passed an order that the matter is sub-judice.” At present, the university has 50% quota for internal students, irrespective of their religious beliefs.
Hence, amidst the controversy over its minority status, since the SC has ordered to maintain “status quo” regarding the 2005 decision of Allahabad HC, no change in its reservation policy is legally possible till the apex court decides to determine its minority status.
The Times Of India reported the Chairman of National Commission for Scheduled Castes Ram Shankar Katheria as asking, “Last year, the central fund allocated to AMU was Rs 1,160 crore. Besides, the VC is selected through the uniform procedure like 46 national universities. Other UGC norms are also applicable there, then why has quota not been effected?”
As reported by The Indian Express, Katheria added, “By the end of August, the full committee (of the SC/ST panel) will meet and issue an order asking the university to provide the quota as required by all central universities. The university has around 30,000 students, and 15 per cent of these seats should have gone to SC students and 7.5 per cent to STs. If AMU fails to provide the documents, it will have to admit 4,500 Dalit students and 2,250 tribal students.”
Moreover, HRD minister Prakash Javadekar at a press conference has also confirmed the fact that the ministry had written to AMU while seeking justification for denying quota for eligible students.
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