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Statutory Institutions/Commissions: National Commission for Minorities

The National Commission for Minorities (NCM) was established by the Union Government under the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992. National Commission for Minorities was conceived in the determination presented by the Ministry of Home Affairs, on the 12th of January, 1978. Major reasons for establishing the National Commission for Minorities in India is that the Ministry of Home Affairs felt a feeling of insecurity and inequality among those belonging to the minority community. Observing this matter, the Indian government implemented all kinds of safeguarding measures for the Minorities in the Constitution. Central as well as State Laws were established, along with many administrative schemes and government strategies.

Union Government included six religious communities such as Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Zoroastrians (Parsis) and Jains as minority communities.

Constitution of the National Commission for Minorities:

The Central Government shall constitute a body to be known as the National Commission for Minorities to exercise the powers conferred on, and to perform the functions assigned to, it under this Act.

The Commission consist of a Chairperson, a Vice Chairperson and five Members to be nominated by the Central Government from amongst persons of eminence, ability and integrity; Provided that five Members including the Chairperson shall be from amongst the Minority communities.

Development of NCM:

The precursors of the National Commission for Minorities were the State-level Minorities Commissions established by the State Governments in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Gujarat by ruling political dispensations of different philosophical types. The first-ever Minorities Commission was formed in 1960 in Uttar Pradesh by the Congress Government under Dr. Sampurnanand. The State Government went forward with an Executive Order to that effect despite misgivings about the Constitutional tenability and political advisability of such a step. Ironically, Dr. Sampurnanand was a sincere Hindu, indeed a Hindi and Sanskrit scholar who made the cow-protection law in his State, an example of how a devout Hindu need not necessarily be a politically conscious Hindu. The one-member Minorities Commission was expanded in 1974 into a ten-member body.

The Congress Government in Bihar established a multi-member Minorities Commission in 1971. This was re-formed by the Janata Party Government under Karpoori Thakur in November 1977 so that the Chief Minister became Chairman. The Karpoori Thakur Government went a step further and established district-level Minorities Standing Committees.

In November 1977, the Janata Party Government in Gujarat under Babubhai Patel formed a State Minorities High Powered Committee. The concept of a national-level Minorities Commission was cited in the Manifesto of the Janata Party during the 1977 General Elections. The Draft Committee of the Manifesto included L.K. Advani besides three Socialists and one Gandhian. The Manifesto promised “to make suitable institutional arrangements for the protection of the Constitutional and civil rights of the Minorities and other weaker sections of the society.”

After the Janata Party assumed power in 1977, a semi-government organization called the Minorities Commission was developed in Delhi. It was directed by then Home Minister Chaudhary Charan Singh and had the permissions of Prime Minister Morarji Desai. On 12 January 1978, the Union Home Ministry informed a Government Resolution (No. II-160/2/2/77-NID) that said, “Despite the safeguards provided in the Constitution and the laws in force, there persists among the Minorities a feeling of inequality and discrimination. In order to preserve secular traditions and to promote National integration, the Government of India attaches the highest importance to the enforcement of safeguards provided for the Minorities and is of the firm view that effective institutional arrangements are urgently required for the enforcement and implementation of all the safeguards provided for the minorities in the Constitution in the Central and State laws and in Government policies and administrative schemes enunciated from time to time. The Government of India has, therefore, resolved to set up a Minorities Commission to safeguard the interests of the Minorities whether based on religion or language”.

There is an uproar for talking constitutional status on The National Commission for Minorities. It is well recognized that such a status had been imagined by the Morarji Government from the beginning. On 03 August 1978, the Government presented in the Lok Sabha, the Constitution (Forty-Sixth) Amendment Bill 1978 which among other things made room for a constitutionally sanctioned Minorities Commission to “inspire greater confidence among the Minorities.” But it was severely criticized by several legal and constitutional experts; V.P. Bhartiya named the Commission a “Phoenix” and condemned the Government for “engrafting this foreign organism to the equality postulate of the Constitution”. Though the Bill failed, the Morarji Government was undeterred and introduced the Constitution (Fifty-First) Amendment Bill 1979 which again fell for lack of support. The Morarji Government made another ineffective attempt in that direction in a specially extended Lok Sabha session. Compassionately for the Hindus, this Government had to chicken out after being hit with a no-confidence motion.

It is notable that former Chief Justice of India, M.H. Beg, who regulated the Minorities Commission from 1981 to 1988, in his very first report powerfully recommended that “the Minorities Commission should be replaced with or merged into a National Integration-cum-Human Rights Commission”. Chairman Justice Beg repeated and expounded upon this recommendation in the next annual report of the Minorities Commission and even put forth the notion of replacing the Minorities Commission with a National Integration-cum-Human Rights Commission at a Conference of State Minorities Commissions and Boards held in Delhi in January 1984.

Though the Congress is professed of being remorseful of minority appeasement, successive Congress Governments under Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi had no plans to give either constitutional or even ordinary legislative support to the Commission or to arm it with powers exercisable under the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952. The Union Welfare Minister in the two Houses of Parliament on 25 November and 02 December 1988 believed there was no explanation for such demands. The Congress first assured to accord constitutional status to the Commission before the 1991 General Elections. But that was to come later.

A scheme to grant statutory status to the Minorities Commission was made in the election manifesto of the National Front led by V.P. Singh. In enactment of this promise, the V.P. Singh-led government planned to give statutory and even constitutional status to the Minorities Commission. Though, the Constitution (Sixty-Fifth Amendment) Act 1990 did not associate the Minorities Commission with the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. According to the statement made by Ram Vilas Paswan in the Lok Sabha in 1992, this could not be done because “the men of BJP were with us in the Government” in 1990.

After that, the National Commission for Minorities came into existence following the National Commission for Minorities Act 1992 brought by the Narasimha Rao-led United Front Government. The Act came into force on 17 May 1992. The discussion on this Bill was opened by L.K. Advani who delivered a lengthy speech opposing the Bill. Advani was frank to hold himself guilty for having been party to the creation of the Minorities Commission. He said the manifesto of the Janata Party did not commit itself to a Minorities Commission but only spoke of a Civil Rights Commission, and demanded he was “hamstrung” while in Government. Advani also raised valid objections to the proposed Act. The official notification of the Act and the composition of the first seven-member statutory National Commission for Minorities were proclaimed by two separate Government notifications issued on 17 May 1993.

In its manifesto for the 1998 General Elections, the BJP vowed to wind up the National Commission for Minorities and trust its responsibilities to the National Human Rights Commission. After the NDA government resumed power, some opposition members asked Prime Minister Vajpayee in Parliament to state his Government’s policy about the National Commission for Minorities. The Prime Minister assured the members that The National Commission for Minorities is not threatening to social system. He was apparently hamstrung by the fact that winding up the NCM did not figure in the Common Minimum Programme of the NDA.

Various State-level Minorities Commissions are formed in different States such as Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal. The Minorities Commissions in Maharashtra, Manipur and Punjab do not have statutory status. Assam, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh have non-statutory Minorities Boards.

To the credit of the BJP, during 1995-1996, the Shiv Sena-BJP Government in Maharashtra and the BJP Government in Rajasthan had wound up the State Minorities Commissions and a similar exercise was undertaken in Uttar Pradesh in 1999. The case related to the Maharashtra State Minorities Commission, known as the Misbah Alam Case. The State Government stated that “it is the policy of the Government that all citizens are equal and there should not be any discrimination of Minority-Majority”. The Supreme Court articulated incapability to issue a directive to the State Government in this regard since there was no statute making it obligatory for the State Government to reconstitute the Commission. It is well established that if the National Commission for Minorities were granted Constitutional status in future, it will be compulsory for all State Governments to constitute State Minorities Commissions without the option of dissolving them.

Functions of the Commission:

The Commission perform following functions:

  1. Evaluate the progress of the development of Minorities under the Union and States.
  2. Observe the working of the safeguards provided in the Constitution and in laws enacted by Parliament and the State Legislatures.
  3. Make recommendations for the effective implementation of safeguards for the protection of the interests of Minorities by the Central Government or the State Governments.
  4. Attend specific complaints regarding deprivation of rights and safeguards of the Minorities and take up such matters with the appropriate authorities.
  5. Cause studies to be undertaken into problems arising out of any discrimination against Minorities and recommend measures for their removal.
  6. Conduct studies, research and analysis on the issues relating to socio-economic and educational development of Minorities.
  7. Recommend appropriate procedures in respect of any Minority to be undertaken by the Central Government or the State Governments.
  8. Make periodical or special reports to the Central Government on any matter pertaining to Minorities and in particular the difficulties confronted by them.
  9. Any other matter which may be referred to it by the Central Government.

The Central Government shall cause the recommendations referred to in clause (c) of sub-section (1) to be laid before each House of Parliament along with a memorandum explaining the action taken or proposed to be taken on the recommendations relating to the Union and the reasons for the non-acceptance, if any, of any of such recommendations.

Where any recommendation mentioned in clause (c) of sub-section (1) or any part thereof is such with which any State Government is concerned, the Commission shall forward a copy of such recommendation or part to such State Government who shall cause it to be laid before the Legislature of the State along with a memorandum explaining the action taken or proposed to be taken on the recommendations relating to the State and the reasons for the non-acceptance, if any, of any of such recommendation or part.

While performing any of the functions mentioned in sub-clauses (a), (b) and (d) of sub-section (1), The Commission have all the powers of a civil court trying a suit and, in particular, in respect of the following matters, namely:

  1. Summoning and enforcing the attendance of any person from any part of India and examining him on oath.
  2. Necessitating the discovery and production of any document.
  3. Receiving evidence of affidavits.
  4. Requisitioning any public record or copy thereof from any court or office.
  5. Issuing commissions for the examination of witnesses and documents.
  6. Any other matter which may be recommended.

Powers of commission:

The Commission has the following powers:

  • Summoning and enforcing the attendance of any person from any part of India and examining him on oath.
  • Requiring the discovery and production of any document.
  • Receiving evidence on affidavit.
  • Requisitioning any public record or copy thereof from any court or office.
  • Issuing commissions for the examination of witnesses and documents.

Political role of the National Commission for Minorities:

As a statutory body, the National Commission for Minorities is thought to be a political. Yet there have been numerous occasions when the National Commission for Minorities and State Minorities Commissions have openly taken political positions.

In December 1998, the National Commission for Minorities wrote to the Election Commission for preventing the use of words like “votebank”, “appeasement”, “concessions” in reference to Minorities in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections. In July 1999, the NCM Chairman recommended separately to the heads of all major political parties that they should ensure passable representation of minorities in Parliament and all State Legislatures. He insisted political parties to ensure at least 100 seats for Minorities in the next Lok Sabha. In August 1999, Rev. Dr. James Massey, Member NCM, used government transport to attend a press conference at St. Savior's High School Meeting Hall, Ahmednanagar, Maharashtra, where the forthcoming Parliamentary and Assembly elections were debated. Dr. Massey urged the Christian community to play a dynamic and important role in the forthcoming elections and asked the members of the church “to vote for such persons who will fight against Fascism, Brahminism and Manuvad and protect the poor, the dalits and marginalised from such ‘isms’.”

These statements were made at the said press conference and pamphlets asking Christian voters to cease from voting for BJP and to vote for Congress-1 and the Nationalist Congress Party were dispersed. In Tamil Nadu, the Chairman of the State Minorities Commission who was a Christian missionary, actively campaigned for the local ruling party in the 1999 General Elections.

Demands and compliance:

The National Commission for Minorities has been loyally resounding the demands of powerful fundamentalist Islamic and Christian missionary lobbies. These demands are placed as “recommendations” to the Central and State governments.

Find below the list of some of the recommendations (compliance indicated in brackets):

  1. Establishment of a Central Development and Finance Corporation for the Minorities - 1991. (National Minorities Development & Finance Corporation formed in 1994).
  2. In 2003-2004, The National Commission for Minorities recommended that school textbooks should be analysed to comprehend if they contained any material that creates hatred among the minorities. (The New National Curriculum Framework 2005 addressed these concerns and textbooks are being reviewed accordingly for several classes. The NCERT/CBSE has already introduced revised text books for Classes 1, III, VI, IX and XI. NCERT sends the proposed new books in advance to NCM so its Members can go through the portions pertaining to different religions).
  3. There should be balanced representation of minorities in the Armed Forces and Police. Officers who belong to minority communities should be given so-called ‘sensitive’ assignments so that they can play a more useful role and provide a remedy. (Central Para-Military Forces have been asked to ensure sufficient representation to minorities through making minority community candidates aware of the employment opportunities and the incentives/prospects available in the Forces. Recruitment Boards have been directed to send special information to minority community run institutions/organizations with a request to encourage candidates from these communities to apply for recruitment in Central Para-military forces. Additionally, the State Governments/UT Administrations have been advised that State police forces should represent the social structure in their respective States so that the forces retain their secular character).
  4. Appropriate steps should be taken to increase share of minority communities in public/private employment. (All public sector undertakings have been recommended that wherever a Selection Committee/Board is constituted for making recruitment to 10 or more vacancies in Group ‘C’ and Group ‘D’ posts/services, it shall be mandatory to have one member belonging to a minority community in such committees/boards. Administrative Ministers have been requested to direct the officials in all public sector undertakings to ensure the interests of minorities are taken care of. The Ministry of Railways, Govt. of India has already issued necessary instructions to all Indian Railways/ PUs to ensure representation of Minorities in Selection Committees/Boards).
  5. Satisfactory flow of credit to minority communities for nationalized banks for trade and business may be safeguarded. (All commercial banks, both in the public and private sector, have already been instructed by the Reserve Bank of India to ensure smooth flow of credit to minority communities so that these communities can secure benefits flowing from various Government sponsored schemes. The RBI has also issued directions to banks precisely to promote financial inclusion. Additionally, Reserve Bank also monitors the credit flow to minorities).
  6. The procedures regarding preservation and management of Enemy Properties in India devolved in the Custodian of Enemy Property of India issued by CEP has no legal basis and should be immediately withdrawn. The Custodian of Enemy Property should ensure that no property notified as Wakf Property under the relevant statute is ever declared as Enemy Property. Action should be initiated to ensure that Wakf Property is kept outside the purviews of the Enemy Property Act 1968. The Administration/CEP should not recover/demand any rent arrear of rent for a Property alleged to be an Enemy Property till such time as it is notified so under Section 12 of the Enemy Property Act, 1968. (The Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Bill is to be introduced in the winter session of Parliament).
  7. On 27 October 2000, The National Commission for Minorities suggested to the Ministry of Law that while appointing Government Counsels, effort should be made to ensure that Members of the minority communities are adequately represented.
  8. The National Commission for Minorities made a statutory recommendation to UGC and M/o Human Resources Development for grant of exemption to candidates belonging to minority communities from the requirement of clearing UGC’s NET for 15 years for their appointment against teaching posts in all Colleges and Universities.
  9. Draft bill of the Equal Opportunities Commission prepared by the National Commission for Minorities (Bill under process of inter-ministerial consultation; some Ministers want the EOC to be limited for Minorities only).
  10. Reservation for Dalit Christians and Muslims at par with SCs /STs should be considered by the Government in all seriousness and all facilities extended.

To summarize, the National Commission for Minorities protects the constitutional and legal rights of minorities in the nation. The minorities are one of the communities on whom the constitution of India has made special safeguards so that they could preserve their religion, language, script and culture, and this has been done by carving out an exception to the principle of equality and secularism.