A public interest litigation before the Kerala High Court highlighted that while most of the socio, economic and educational empowerment schemes and programmes are meant for the socio economically poor sections of the society including the six centrally notified minorities, there is marked discrimination favouring one minority against other minority communities without any rationale in Kerala.
The plea filed by a member of the Roman Catholic community alleged that the scholarships are provided to a particular minority community (Muslims) in preference to other minority communities.
The Government had considered the matter at length and decided to give scholarships and hostel stipends to Muslim students and Latin Catholic/Converted Christians in the ratio 80:20. (80 percent to Muslim Community and 20 percent to Latin Christians and Converted Christians). This also included 30 percent of seats to be reserved for girl students. But the High Court quashed this order as it could not be “legally sustained”.
It further ruled that the government should provide merit-cum-means scholarship to the members of the notified minority communities within the State equally, and in accordance with the latest population census available with the State Minority Commission.
The Bench of Chief Justice S. Manikumar and Justice S Manikumar, thus, allowed the petition alleging that the State Government was giving “undue favour” to the Muslim community over the members of other minority communities in the State.
The primary issue in the petition was with respect to a scholarship scheme announced by the State Government, pursuant to proposals submitted by a 11-member committee. The Committee was to implement the recommendations of the Justice Rajinder Sachar committee in Kerala. The Sachar Committee was a high-level committee set-up to report on the social, economic, and educational status of Muslims in India.
Initially the State Government provided 5,000 scholarships for degree and post graduate Muslim women students. The benefit of the scheme was later extended to students belonging to the Latin Catholic and Converted Christian Communities in 2011. Eventually, as per a government order in 2015, that reservation among Muslims and other minority communities stood at a ratio of 80:20.
The petitioner alleged that this State Government’s scheme is in contravention of a scholarship announced by the Union Government in 2006, where scholarships were provided to students belonging to minority communities, on a merit-cum-means basis.
LiveLaw quoted the petition read, “State of Kerala under the guise of promoting the minority communities is showing undue favouritism to Muslim community to the detriment of other minority communities. In the case of Christian community, other than Latin Catholic and converted Christians, no benefit is given to the rest of the group resulting in total discrimination.” Hence, the petitioner sought that the discrimination be remedied and the scholarships distributed uniformly to all minority communities.
The State Government, on the other hand, argued that the Sachar Committee and Kerala Padana Report reveals that Muslims were behind Christians in college enrolment. 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 and included in OBC category by the State Government while in other religious minorities including Christians, the Roman Catholics and some other sects among Christians are not backward communities in toto”, the Kerala Government argued.
The Bench referred to Article 14 (equality before law) and 15 (right against discrimination) to hold that it is clear that the State is endowed with a duty coupled with an obligation to look after the welfare and well-being of the socially, educationally and economically weaker sections of citizens irrespective of the special provisions dealing with minorities.
“Therefore, there is nothing wrong in the State Government providing facilities to weaker sections of the community, but when it comes to dealing with the notified minorities, it has to treat them equally, and it is not vested with any powers to treat them unequally”, read the order.
The court ruled that the State is indulging in providing scholarship to the Muslim minority community at 80 percent, which is “an unconstitutional act and unsupported by any law.” Finally the court held, “..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% to Muslim community and 20% to the Latin Catholic Christians and Converted Christians cannot be legally sustained.”
It directed the government to provide merit-cum-means scholarships to the members of the notified minority communities within the State, equally.
The judgment may be read here: