Legal dispute over AMU’s minority character

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What’s in today’s article?

  • Why in news?
  • Aligarh Muslim University
  • Minorities in India
  • Different SC Judgements dealing with minorities
  • Minority Educational Institution (MEI)
  • News Summary: Legal dispute over AMU’s minority character
  • Background: the university’s minority character under dispute

Why in news?

  • A seven-judge Bench of the Supreme Court started hearing the matter pertaining to Aligarh Muslim University’s minority character.
  • This is a dispute that dates back almost 57 years and has been adjudicated upon multiple times by different courts.

Aligarh Muslim University

  • Origin
    • AMU’s origins can be traced back to the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental (MOA) College.
    • It was established by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in 1875 to help Muslims overcome educational backwardness and prepare for government services.
    • MOA not only imparted Western education but also emphasised Islamic theology. Sir Syed also advocated for women’s education.
  • University status
    • In 1920, the institution was conferred university status and all assets of MOA College were transferred to it.
    • Currently, AMU is a public central university in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, India.

Minorities in India

  • Definition
    • The expression minorities appear in some Articles of the Constitution, but is not defined anywhere.
  • Identification
    • The subject of identification of the minority community is on the Concurrent List.
    • Currently, the central government decides who gets the minority community status in India. It is done under the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992.
    • Only those belonging to the communities notified under Section 2(c) of the 1992 law are regarded as minority citizens.
    • However, this arrangement may change soon.
      • In March 2022, the central government told the SC that states could decide the minority status of the eligible communities within their territorial jurisdiction.
      • This came as a response to a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Ashwini Upadhyay contending that those from the majority communities in some states are treated as minority citizens and therefore corner undue benefits.
  • Current Status
    • Under this law, Centre had notified five groups — Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis and Jains — as ‘minority’ communities.
      • Jains were added to the list in January 2014.
  • Constitutional provisions dealing with rights of minorities
    • Article 29 deals with the Protection of Interests of Minorities.
    • Article 30 deals with the right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions.
    • Article 350(A) says there shall be a Special Officer for linguistic minorities to be appointed by the President.

Different SC Judgements dealing with minorities

  • TMA PAI:
    • In ‘TMA Pai’, an 11-judge bench of the SC dealt with the question of the scope of right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice under the Constitution.
    • The court ruled that:
      • The State is to be regarded as the unit for determining both linguistic minority as well as religious minority.
      • The question whether a sector denomination of a religion can claim minority status even though followers of that religion are in majority left unanswered.
    • The 7-judge bench ruled that:
      • Minority whether linguistic or religious is to be determined by the demography of state,
      • Minority institutions may be classified into 3 categories:
        • Those which do not seek aid or recognition
        • Those which want aid, and
        • Those which want only recognition and no aid.
    • In 2005, the SC in its judgment in ‘Bal Patil’ referred to the TMA Pai ruling, and said:
      • The unit for determining status of both linguistic and religious minorities would be state.

Minority Educational Institution (MEI)

  • About
    • MEIs are colleges or institutions established by a minority group to protect and promote their culture and traditions.
  • Constitutional provision
    • Article 30 of the Indian constitution gives all minorities the right to establish and run educational institutions.
    • In case the property is taken over by the state, due compensation is to be provided to establish institutions elsewhere.
    • The article also prohibits the state from discriminating against these institutions when granting aid.
  • Legal provisions
    • The National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI) Act has been enacted to safeguard the educational rights of the minorities enshrined in Article 30(1) of the Constitution.
    • The Commission is a quasi-judicial body and has been endowed with the powers of a Civil Court for the purpose of discharging its functions under the Act.

News Summary: Legal dispute over AMU’s minority character

  • S. Azeez Basha and another versus Union of India
    • The legal dispute over AMU’s minority status dates back to 1967 when the Supreme Court was reviewing changes made in 1951 and 1965 to the AMU Act.
      • These amendments affected how the university was run.
    • In its judgement, the court emphasised that AMU was established through a central Act to ensure the government’s recognition of its degrees.
    • So, while the Act may have been passed because of the efforts of the Muslim minority, it does not imply that the University, under the 1920 Act, was established by the Muslim minority.
  • 1981 Amendment to the act
    • The SC ruling triggered nationwide protests from Muslims.
    • In response, political authorities yielded in 1981 and introduced an amendment to the AMU Act, explicitly affirming its minority status.
  • Implementation of reservation policy by AMU in 2005
    • In 2005, the AMU implemented a reservation policy, reserving 50% of seats in postgraduate medical courses for Muslim candidates.
    • This was challenged in the Allahabad High Court, which, in the same year, overturned the reservation and nullified the 1981 Act.
    • The court reasoned that the AMU could not maintain an exclusive reservation because, according to the Supreme Court’s verdict in the S. Azeez Basha case, it did not qualify as a minority institution.
  • Matter challenged in Supreme Court
    • In 2006, a set of eight petitions, including one from the Union government, contested the Allahabad High Court’s decision before the Supreme Court.
    • In 2016, the then government informed the SC that it was withdrawing the appeal filed by the government.
      • It said that as the executive government at the Centre, we cannot be seen as setting up a minority institution in a secular state.
  • Matter referred to a seven-judge Bench
    • In February 2019, a three-judge Bench presided by the then CJI Ranjan Gogoi referred the matter to a seven-judge Bench.
    • This bench has now started hearing on the issue.

Q1) What is Article 350A of the Indian Constitution?

Article 350A of the Indian Constitution states that states and local authorities must provide adequate facilities for instruction in the mother tongue at the primary stage of education for children from linguistic minority groups.

Q2) What is Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental (MOA)? 

The Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental (MOA) College was established in 1875 by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. It was originally a primary school, but was later developed into a college. In 1920, the college was elevated to university status and became the Aligarh Muslim University.

Source: What is the long-running legal dispute over AMU’s minority character | National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions | iPleaders | Indian Express