Manmohan seeks consensus on quota

Manmohan seeks consensus on quota for Dalit Christians, Muslims

By Smita Gupta

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh assured a Christian delegation on Saturday that he was trying to evolve a consensus on granting Scheduled Caste status to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims. He also said he would ask Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram to speak to the Chief Ministers, especially of Karnataka and Orissa, to deal firmly with anti-Christian violence, and that he would personally speak to Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan to seek a legal reprieve from a Supreme Court directive, which had led to the demolition by the Municipal Corporation of stone crosses, dating back to the British and Portuguese times, in Mumbai.

In a press note, the Catholic Secular Forum (CSF), a Mumbai-based NGO, said Dr. Singh “listened patiently” to the delegation and assured it that he would do all in his capacity “to allay the fears and insecurity that Christians were experiencing.” He said his government was also “concerned about the unfortunate happenings and was aware of the image it gave the country abroad,” the note said.

The Prime Minister's assurance, at a 45-minute meeting at his residence, on consensus comes little over a fortnight after Attorney-General G.E. Vahanvati briefed the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs on the long-standing demand by the Dalit Christians and the Dalit Muslims that they be given reservation, the way Dalit Buddhists are, as per the 1950 Presidential Order.

Mr. Vahanvati's briefing was given in the context of a public interest litigation petition pending in the Supreme Court. At the last hearing, the court asked the government whether the fact that the Dalit Christians and the Dalit Muslims were deprived of the benefits of reservation did not amount to hostile discrimination under Article 14. The government will have to either justify upholding the 1950 Presidential Order or accept the Ranganath Misra Commission's recommendation. The matter is expected to come up in the court some time next month, it is learnt.

The government would have to deal with the matter soon, sources in the government said, as a decision would impact on the promised caste census: at present, there are no authentic figures for the various castes.

Congress sources added that at present, the party was divided on the issue: as things stand, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes has said that if reservation is given to these two groups, it should not be from the 15 per cent meant for the Dalits — it should be a separate quota. The existing position on reservation at the national level is: 27 per cent for the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), 15 per cent for the Scheduled Castes (or the Dalits) and 7.5 per cent for the Scheduled Tribes. The three categories together account for 49.5 per cent, and till now, the Supreme Court has ruled that reservation should not exceed 50 per cent. Clearly, therefore, a decision one way or the other will open a can of worms.

If the government, therefore, upholds the status quo, aggrieved groups like the CSF may well challenge it in court, CSF sources said. Archbishop Vincent Concessao of Delhi told the Prime Minister that the government needed to act soon, “as its dithering was being viewed negatively by the minorities as an instance of communalising the SC benefits to support only the Dalits of Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist origin.”

Those who met the Prime Minister included Archbishop Concessao, Michael Saldanha, retired judge of the Bombay and Karnataka High Courts; CSF general secretary Joseph Dias; and Sunil Sardar, president, Truth Seekers International.

Justice Saldanha is the author of the report which holds Karnataka's Bharatiya Janata Party government and the Hindutva brigade culpable for the ongoing anti-minority violence in the State. The Prime Minister, CSF sources said, promised to have the report examined and action taken wherever required against the guilty.

(The Hindu)


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