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KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • The Sachar Committee was a high-level Committee constituted in 2005 by former PM Dr. Manmohan Singh to look into the social, economic and educational conditions of Muslims in India and recommend solutions to improve the same.
  • It submitted its report in 2006, which contained some startling findings and recommended some solutions to ameliorate the condition.
  • Various actions were taken, starting in 2006-2007, which are still being implemented.
  • In 2021, a group brought a suit against the Sachar Committee, questioning its constitutionality and restraining the Central Government from implementing the same.
  • The plea has expressed that any action on the recommendations of the Committee would be in violation of Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution of India.
  • It further asserts that the Committee itself is unconstitutional as it was formed by the PM in violation of Article 340, out of his own will without consulting the President or the Cabinet.

INTRODUCTION

A recent petition in the Supreme Court has caused some ripples in the Indian politico-legal system and has risen many dead ghosts of the past. This petition relates to an objection filed against the implementation of the recommendations of the Sachar Committee report by a Hindu organization, claiming that the recommendations made by this Committee are not only “anti-Hindu” but it also seeks to provide extra benefits to the Muslim community on the basis of their religion, thereby creating a separate class of religion-based beneficiaries, which is against the spirit of the Constitution. This article shall be an attempt towards analyzing the recommendations, the views of the general public, and whether it really was a step to ensure an equitable development of the Muslim community or it was just an attempt to appease the community and polarize them, keeping the elections in mind.

What was the Sachar Committee?

In 2005, the then Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh, by a notification, constituted a high-level Committee to look into the socio-economic and educational conditions of the minority Muslim community. This Committee was headed by Retd. Justice Rajindar Sachar, former Chief Justice of the Delhi HC, and therefore, the Committee was named as the Sachar Committee. The aim of this Committee was to collect authentic data regarding the social, economic and educational status of the Muslim community in India, so that effective policies can be made in this regard.

The Committee undertook extensive research to collect and analyze the data and submitted its report to the Prime Minister on 17th November, 2006. It painted a rather abysmal picture of the conditions of the Muslims and found that the conditions of the Muslim community were actually very dire and in some circumstances their condition was worse than that of SCs/STs and that they did not have big share in the political power and even in the higher central services, their participation was highly inadequate as compared to their population. It further found that in most of the cases, higher education was not within the reach of Muslims and only a small percentage of the people could actually go for higher education in colleges/universities. This situation slightly improved in case of school education but even there, the poor and often dilapidated condition of the government-run schools made it impossible for majority of the Muslim children to attain school education, owing to their inadequate financial conditions. The Committee also reported that majority of the Muslims were deprived of institutional credit (bank loans) and other banking services as the banks were beyond their reach. It was also reported that the Muslims had to fight the stigmatization of being anti-national due to their religious markers and had to constantly prove that their loyalty lay towards the nation.

To that end, it made various recommendations urging the Government to take some steps towards the development of Muslims in terms of their social, economic and educational conditions. These recommendations were mainly in the form of some affirmative action on the part of the Government, like establishing high-quality schools in Muslim dominated regions, linking of madarsa as with the common education system, giving incentives to both public and private entities to ensure diversity in their workforce by employing more Muslims in factories and offices, taking steps to ensure more representation of the Muslim community in the Central and State Legislatures among various other recommendations.

The report was presented before both of the Houses of Parliament i.e. the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha on 30th November, 2006.What followed was an uproar both in the Parliament, as well as in the streets. The then opposition party Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), along with its parent organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), vehemently opposed this Committee and claimed it to be an attempt to appease the Muslim minorities, as a part of the vote bank politics done by the then ruling regime. The then BJP Vice-President Mr. Venkaiah Naidu claimed it to be “a competitive appeasement policy born out of political expediency.”

This report was opposed to be based on un-scientific study and an inherently biased approach in favor of a particular community and that it would create a situation of a separate nation within the nation, which could lead to a demand of a separate Islamic state, like it happened in the case of Pakistan.

But the Government defended it as a measure to collect authentic data useful in effective policy formulation and targeted implementation and continued with its implementation. On 31st August, 2007, the then Minister of Minority Affairs, Mr. A.R. Antulay, made a statement in both the Houses, laying out the ‘follow-up’ of the report.

GENERAL VIEWS ON THE REPORT

The general public was also divided on the findings and recommendations of the Committee. The Muslims hailed the report, to the extent of considering Mr. Sachar as their messiah since the report brought to fore the stark reality of the dismal conditions in which they had to survive. It gathered huge praise at various platforms for its landmark recommendations. Most of the educated Muslims made a hero out of Mr. Sachar, as they were surprised by the meticulous account of their living conditions as it was made by the Committee.

But this sentiment was not shared by the other communities. Among the Hindus, and various other minority groups, this report gave rise to a feeling of strong discontentment and being discriminated with. They felt that giving special privileges to Muslims was discriminatory as there were other minority groups which deserved special privileges, were being constantly deprived of the same. It was also felt that some of the recommendations, like reserving seats for Muslim candidates in Muslim-dominated regions and reserving jobs for them in public or private establishments were rather divisive as they could give rise to a feeling of religious ethnicity among the Muslims, eventually leading to separatist tendencies.

It should be considered that here, both parties were indeed reasonable in their approach in the sense that while the Muslims do live in worse circumstances, with their access to education being actually low, if they were provided the benefits as recommended by the Committee to the word, it would actually lead to a feeling of superiority in them which could cause troubles for the country, in terms of lower productivity due to unskilled labor, and defective policy formulation by uneducated policy makers and so on.

PRESENT CONTROVERSY

The issue of Sachar Committee arose again when, a few days back, some residents of Uttar Pradesh, who collectively introduced themselves as the followers of Sanatan Vedic Dharm, filed a petition urging the court to restrain the Central Government from implementing the recommendations of the Sachar Committee Report on account of them being in violation of Article 14 and Article 15, along with Article 340 of the Constitution of India.

The petition states that the recommendations suggested by the Committee violate the right to equality and non-discrimination as it seeks to give preferential treatment to Muslims on the basis of their religion. They base their arguments on the fact that though the Muslims are a minority community, they are a religious minority and any discrimination on the grounds of religion is prohibited under Arts. 14 and 15. Under these Articles, the State is empowered to make special provisions for the socially and economically backward classes, and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. But as things stand, not all the Muslims are included in the category of socially and economically backward classes. So, any policy or legislation made for all the Muslims, which is discriminatory, would be violative of the Constitution and henceforth, should not be allowed.

Further, the petitioners contend that the notification, by which the High-level Committee was formed, was in contravention of Article 340 read with Article 77 of the Constitution of India. Under Article 340, the President ofIndia has been empowered to constitute a Committee to look into the conditions of the socially and economically backward classes, which would present a report to him, and that the President would cause the copies of the report to be tabled in the Parliament, along with the details of the actions taken on the report. Further, under Article 77, it is mandated that all the work of the Central Government would be done in the name of the President, and all the decisions would be taken in his name. The petitioners explain that the notification that was issued didn’t contain any reference to the President of India or the Union Cabinet, which gives rise to an idea that the decision to form the Committee was taken by the Prime Minister out of his own will, without the acquiescence of either the Cabinet or the President. Further, the wordings of the notification show that the Committee was appointed by the Prime Minister and that it was responsible and answerable to him only. Further, the Committee supported its report to the Prime Minister and not the President. On the basis of these instances, the petitioners suggest that the notification is in severe contravention of Article 340 and therefore, should be declared void.

Now, it remains upon the Supreme Court to admit/dismiss the petition, and to hear and decide upon it if admitted.

CRITICAL ANALYSIS

It needs to be said that the challenge to the Sachar Committee seems to be a legitimate one. It is an established constitutional practice under Article 74 that the President would work on the basis of the advice of the Council of Ministers which is headed by the Prime Minister. This highlights two things: first, that the decisions are to be taken in collectivity, that is to say, the entire Council has to be in tandem on the advice given to the President, and secondly, that though the actions are taken in the name of the President, they are actually taken and implemented by the Prime Minister along with his Council of Ministers. In the notification, both the elements seemed to be missing in the sense that it contained absolutely no reference, either to the President, or to the Council which gives weight to the argument that it was a unilateral decision of the then Prime Minister.

Further, while it is a case that the on-ground conditions of Muslims in India are not very good, but some recommendations of the Committee were too radical in their approach. For instance, in Chapter 12, para 2,3 on page 241, the Committee recommends that the delimitation procedure (by which the number of seats in the legislature is decided) be made more “rational” so that in those areas where the Muslims are in majority, the seats in the Indian Parliament as well as the State Legislatures do not get reserved for Scheduled Castes. Implementing this recommendation would have serious ramifications in the sense that the Muslims in majority would only vote for the candidate of their own religion and the purpose of development of SCs/STs and of making a caste-less electorate would stand defeated. Then, in Chapter 12, para 2,4 on page 242, the Committee evolves the concept of “Shared Spaces” in which it recommended that incentives should be given to both public and private entities to motivate them to “ensure diversity” in their workforce by employing more Muslims, but in Chapter 12, para 3,1 on page 244, the Committee recommends the establishment of “high-quality government schools in the areas of Muslim concentration” and also recommends separate school for Muslim girls. These recommendations are diametrically opposite to each other, as forming schools on these lines would give rise to more exclusivity, instead of inclusion.

Various other recommendations like taking steps to ensure more participation of Muslims in Civil Services and other higher offices of the Government, while asserting that majority of the Muslims do not get proper higher education, or to take steps to get more Muslims employed in factories/offices while emphasizing low levels of skill-development in them are not only a contradiction in themselves, but also untenable as ensuring Muslim representation at the cost of knowledge and only for the sake of equitable representation are sure to deteriorate the quality of the institutions in the long run.

Apart from them, the allegations that the Committee was formed for political appeasement are also justified, as during that time, ‘vote-bank’ politics was at its peak, with parties scrambling to secure as many votes as possible and the Muslim community has traditionally been considered as a ‘vote-bank’ as they cast their votes unanimously, swinging the election in favor of their candidate. The result was that in 2009 general elections, the Indian National Congress was able to secure 200+ seats, much better than its 2004 performance. Not only that, due to the environment created by this report, the Trinamool Congress, an ally of the INC at that time, was able to overthrow the more than three-decade old Left Communist regime in West Bengal.

CONCLUSION

After going through the above material, we can conclude that while measures should be taken for bringing Muslims to the mainstream of the Indian political system, the approach to achieve that should be more inclusive and within the contours of constitutional morality and should not be at the cost of other deserving communities. About the suit that has been filed, it has to be said that it does contain some legitimate grounds of opposition and that the Supreme Court should hear it and if the report is indeed unconstitutional, it should be scrapped at the very instant.


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