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Maharashtra pressurising minority institutions
By MH Lakdawala

Mumbai: The Democratic Front government in Maharashtra has done it again. It once again hit the Muslims where it hurts most. The state government has issued a controversial resolution in February, laying down fresh conditions that institutions run by linguistic and religious minorities have to fulfill to retain their status.

The government resolution, which reached schools only in June, requires minority-run institutions to submit details of their admission process to the education department. Among other things, it asks the institutions to supply the department with information on the various social and educational projects that they have undertaken for their community's benefit. Unless these conditions are fulfilled, the government directive says that the institution's minority status will be withdrawn.

The order provoked protests, more so because the Supreme Court is currently hearing a petition on the rights of minority-run institutions. Some education trusts challenged the state government resolution in court. 

"The state government should not have issued a resolution like this, when the matter is pending in the Supreme Court,'' said Maharashtra State Minorities commission chairman MA Khandwani. The commission asked the government to withdraw the resolution and wait for the apex court judgement.

"The state government should not have issued a resolution like this, when the matter is pending in the Supreme Court,'' said Maharashtra State Minorities commission chairman MA Khandwani. The commission asked the government to withdraw the resolution and wait for the apex court judgement."

However, an official with the school education department said that the state was within its rights to change rules regarding minority-run institutions. "The Supreme Court has not issued any stay and we are not committing any contempt,'' the official said. 

No doubt state has every right to change the rules regarding the minority-run institutions but the issue here is of the fundamental rights enshrined in the Indian Constitution. State does not have any right to tamper with the fundamental rights.

Nevertheless, following the protests, the government decided to modify its resolution. Education minister Ramakrishna More said "The government considered all previous court judgments about minority-run institutions, and then decided to lay down a few conditions they have to follow at the time of registration,'' he said. Now, a couple of educationists are looking at the objections and an amended resolution would be issued in a few days, he added.

The reason given by the government, for adopting the controversial and biased resolution is not very convincing. It is learnt that the government framed this resolution following complaints that some institutions were misusing their minority status. "Many started off as minority institutions, but later, changed the trustees. So, they ended up being minority-run only on paper,'' an official with the education department said.

Now this reason sounds silly and unconvincing. If the government has received any such complaints it has all the rights to cancel the recognition of the school and stop the aid. But targeting all Minorities institutions smells of some thing fishy.

The government wants to kill two birds with a single stone. The biggest advantage of the minority-run status is that an institute can fill up 50 per cent of the seats with students belonging to that particular community. Now through the controversial resolution government intends to control these 50 percent of the seats also. Secondly by targeting minorities institutions state government wants to save money as its coffers are left empty by the previous BJP-Sena government.

According to Mr Khandwani, the government felt that many institutes were filling up these seats with students outside the minority community, in lieu of donations or other favours. Whatever be the case, the state had no right to interfere with minority-run institutions, he said. For instance, the government resolution says that institutions should submit a copy of the latest census report, showing that the community running it is indeed a minority. "Why should we tell the government that we are a minority community? The state is supposed to know that,'' Mr Khandwani said.

The resolution also says that when an institution applies for recognition as a minority-run institution, this status can be granted only for a maximum of three years. Institutes will have to renew their minority status from time to time-another factor that irked minority institute officials. "Minority status is a fundamental right conferred on us by the Indian Constitution,'' said a trustee of a minority-run educational institution. "I don't have to apply to the government for a right enshrined in the Constitution.'' 

Since minorities are most vulnerable as far as vote bank politics is concerned the intentions of the state government are clear from its decision to charge different tuition fees from students of aided English medium schools, based on the income of their parents, which has been challenged in the Bombay high court. 

Now majority of the English medium schools are managed by Christians the government targeted it. Challenging the government resolution (GR) on the grounds that it was violative of several Constitutional provisions, BJP MLA Abhiram Singh said it would create an arbitrary social stratification as children would become aware of the economic differences among themselves.

Mr Singh said the GR would cause some students to suffer from an inferiority complex.

The petition was filed on June 25 by Mr Singh to challenge the constitutional validity of the GR of May 29. According to the petition, the state government restructured the fees on the basis of the income of the parents of the students studying in the 265 aided English medium schools in Maharashtra. The schools had been sanctioned grant-in-aid by the government prior to 1973-74.

Alleging that the GR abolished a right to free education to children up to the age of 14 years, as enshrined in the Constitution's Article 45, the petitioner said the GR also took away all scholarships and freeships for which students belonging to the backward classes were eligible. Similarly, their educational facilities, too, were withdrawn.

The petitioner claimed that the GR was bad in law, arbitrary in nature and ultra vires of the Constitution of India. Pointing that education was a fundamental right, Mr Singh said the state government had no right to abolish it. As six different categories for the purpose of determining the fees for the students of the same class had been created by the GR, the classification could create a drastic complex among many of the students. Moreover, it could create inequality among them.

Mr Singh wondered how IAS officials failed to advise the state government about the violation of the Constitution. He disclosed that he had prayed for a direction to the finance secretary that the latter should place before the court the scheme under which schools in Maharashtra were assisted financially by the government.

The petitioner has sought the court's direction to the chief secretary that the latter should be asked to furnish details of the budgetary allocation to education, the policy of the government regarding school education, including both, the English medium as well as the vernacular medium schools.

Thus with two separate resolutions the Maharashtra government is targeting both Muslim and Christian communities. Its high time Congress and other secular parties desist from taking minorities for granted. In the past they have suffered humiliating defeat. Ironically our politicians do not learn from their past mistakes.

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