In a significant judicial move, the Kerala High Court on Friday quashed the state government orders, sub-classifying minorities by providing merit-cum-means scholarship at 80 percent to the Muslim community and 20 percent to Latin Catholic Christians and converted Christians. The court held that the action of the state government in sub-classifying the minorities by providing merit-cum-means scholarship cannot be legally sustained.
The Kerala government sub-classified the minorities by providing merit-cum-means scholarship at 80 per cent to the Muslim community and 20 per cent to the Latin Catholic Christians and converted Christians. The Division Bench headed by Chief Justice S Manikumar ruled that the benefits should be in proportion to the population of the various minorities.
The bench further directed the government to pass appropriate orders, providing merit-cum-means scholarship to members of the notified minority communities within the state equally and in accordance with the latest population census available with the state minority commission.
“Therefore, deducing the facts, circumstances and the laws, we are of the considered opinion that the action of the State Government in sub-classifying the minorities by providing merit-cum-means scholarship at 80 per cent to Muslim community and 20 per cent to Latin Catholic Christians and Converted Christians cannot be legally sustained”, the court said.
The court order was in response to a PIL challenging a 2015 government order, that reservation among Muslims and other minority communities will be in the ratio of 80:20. The petitioner contended that the fixation of such a ratio was arbitrary, unjust and illegal and accordingly violative of Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution.
“State of Kerala under the guise of promoting the minority communities is showing undue favouritism to the Muslim community to the detriment of other minority communities. In the case of the Christian community, other than Latin Catholic and converted Christians, no benefit is given to the rest of the group resulting in total discrimination,” the petition was quoted by LiveLaw.
In its order, the Court noted that the Christian Minority community had made representations to the government and State Minority Commission on the discrimination meted out to Latin Catholic Christians and Converted Christians on award of merit-cum-means scholarship, but no action was initiated. It also noted that Section 13 of the State Commission for Minorities Act, 2014, encompasses a duty on the commission to look after the welfare of the minority communities within the State without any discrimination.
In its counter affidavit, the government had stated that a committee set up by it relied on statistics from the Justice Sachar Committee report and Kerala Padana (study) report for finalizing its report, which revealed Muslims are far behind Christians in college enrollment (and even behind Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes) — ie 8.1 per cent for Muslims. It had said Muslims in Kerala are ”in toto” a backward community and included in the OBC category by the state government.
The State argued, based on the Sachar Committee and Kerala Padana Report, that Muslims were behind Christians in college enrollment. There were only 3 percent landless Christians, while 37.8 percent of Muslims were landless among Muslims, it was stated. Muslims in Kerala are in toto a backward community while in other religious minorities including Christians, the Roman Catholics and some other sects among Christians are not backward communities, it was contended.
The alleged disparity has led to sharp polarisation between the two communities, especially during the recently held assembly elections. In the second Pinarayi Vijayan government, the minority welfare portfolio was allotted to the Chief Minister himself, in a clear departure from the practice of a legislator belonging to the Muslim community becoming the minister.
While the court order invited protests from various Muslim religious and political outfits, it was welcomed by the Christian groups. The Indian Union Muslim League said the state should make its stand clear on the issue, while the Catholic Church welcomed the order. Catholic Bishops Conference of India Council for Laity’s secretary V C Sebastain said the verdict is a warning from the court against denial of justice.
It is not clear whether the state government will appeal against the order which is set to put the government in a tricky situation. There has been no official statement from the state government so far.
Muslim League leader ET Muhammed Basheer said that the government should file an appeal against the verdict on minority scholarship. The League is unable to file an appeal as it was not added as party in the case.
Though Christian community is minority in terms of population, they are not minority in the case of education. But Muslims are backward socially as well. Christians were added in the scheme only later. The Sachar committee formed this scheme completely for Muslims, Basheer told Mathrubhumi.
Senior CPIM leader Paloli Muhammedkutty added that the high court verdict can be considered as an order against discrimination. He added that the 80:20 ratio resulted in misunderstanding among other communities. Even a religious divide can be created among the people with this move.
LDF wanted to consider the economically backward people among minorities. The chief minister who handles minority welfare should take an appropriate action regarding this matter, Paloli opined.