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India SC Questions Scholarships Along Religious Lines


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
The UPA Government’s ambitious schemes to provide scholarships to underprivileged religious minority community students have hit a constitutional bar. The Supreme Court has asked the Centre to explain why such State-funded benefit should be restricted to only one section of the people and not extended to every poor student irrespective of religion.

The court has set a one-month deadline for the Centre to respond after the schemes were challenged for being violative of the sacred Constitutional principle — non-discrimination on grounds of religion.

Pune-based social worker Jyotika Wale, in her petition, has questioned why the poor among the non-minorities should be discriminated against by the Centre because such a classification would create a divide and communal discord among the poor communities. The Bombay High Court had dismissed her petition on June 6 this year.

But the apex Bench of Justices Dalveer Bhandari and Deepak Verma issued notice on Wale’s appeal filed through advocate Aniruddha Rajput giving Centre four weeks to respond.

Admittedly, out of the 18 per cent minority population in the country, the bulk is constituted by Muslims (13.4 per cent) and Christians (2 per cent) followed by Sikhs, Buddhists, and Parsis. The petition said that the scholarship was aimed to benefit only some religious communities which are prohibited under Article 15(1).

The scheme titled “Merit-cum-Means Scholarships for Minority Students” launched in 2008 announced pre-Matric and post-Matric scholarships for families earning Rs 1 lakh per annum and Rs 2.5 lakh per annum respectively. Subject to availability of funds, the scholarship of Rs 950 per annum for day-scholar and Rs 1,450 per annum for hosteller was available under the first scheme while for post-matric scheme, Rs 30,000 per annum (hosteller) and Rs 25,000 (day-scholar) was earmarked.

The Centre defended the scheme based on two documents — Prime Minister’s 15-point programme and the Justice Rajinder Sachar Committee report on “Social, economic and educational status of the Muslim community of India”. While the second document discussed the socio-educational backwardness of Muslims and not minorities as a whole, the PM’s 15-point agenda announced in 2006 took a broad view on enhancing education opportunities among minorities. With no evidence of backwardness among other minority communities, the petitioner argued that the benefits would be cornered by Muslims alone.

Before the HC, the Centre projected economics of poverty to justify the scheme by citing the 11th Five Year Plan guaranteeing inclusive growth of SC/ST/OBC and minorities.

The scheme, it suggested benefited both the poor and the minorities at an annual budget of Rs 675 crore, a miniscule of the total spending of Rs 33,954 crore on school education and Rs 15,402 on higher education spent annually by the Centre. In addition, the schemes had a 30 per cent reservation for girls.

The scheme’s economic viability coupled with the fact that the majority still has many scholarships to avail from, the HC approved the scheme. But in doing so, the petitioner pointed out that the scheme encouraged backwards to remain backward and for Dalits who converted to Muslim, Christianity, Sikh or Buddhist faith, it became an added incentive.


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