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Published in the 1-15 Aug 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Five percent quota for AP Muslims

By Ibrahim Usmani

Hyderabad: In a historic decision on 12 July, Andhra Pradesh government issued an order giving five percent reservation to Muslims in government jobs and educational institutions. For this Muslims have been given a special category of ‘Backward Classes under Category E’. The order will come into force with immediate effect. By this, the Congress has fulfilled its one of its promises made in its election manifesto. Accepting the recommendations of the Commissionerate of Minorities Welfare, the government order no. 33 states, "Muslims in the state will be provided with five percent reservations in educational institutions and employment in the state, over and above the reservations presently provided to the Backward Classes and be treated as Backward Classes under Category E in addition to the existing A, B, C, D Categories." 

According to the government order, Minority Welfare Department Commission had made an analysis of the socio-economic problems and educational situation in AP and presented a report to the government in which mention has been made on Muslims’ life style, economic activities, salaries, level of literacy and their role in the society. AP Minority Finance Corporation and District Minority Welfare Officers jointly conducted this survey.

According to the survey, the Muslim population is 6.4 million in AP, i.e. 8.5 percent as mentioned in 1991 census. Out of this 6.5 percent Muslims are living below the poverty line i.e. they have an annual earning of Rs.11,000 or less. Literacy rate among Muslims is 18 percent as compared to 44 percent of other communities according to the 1991 census. Muslim women have an astonishing literacy rate as low as four percent according to the survey which also says that most of the Muslims are engaged in simple businesses like pan shops, tea, flower and dry fruit stalls in addition to working as labourers in workshops or watch, radio and television mechanics. In rural areas, most of them are unskilled labourers. It was noted that due to poverty and illiteracy, socio-economic problems are worst and Muslims’ participation in different walks of the society is nil. 

There had been a long awaited demand for this reservation. The percentage of Muslims in government jobs and educational institutions after independence has plummeted from 47 percent to a mere 1.6 percent at present. Chief Minister YSR Reddy said that legislation would be introduced in the state legislative assembly soon to provide statutory backing to the order.

Meanwhile, many sections of the Muslim community in the state have welcomed the government’s move. Abdur Raheem Quraishi, secretary of the Muslim United Forum, hailed it as a historic decision. 

Maulana Hameeduddin Aaqil Husami, chief of the Millat-e-Islamiyah, said that the Congress government has shown that it fulfills what it promises in its election manifesto. 

Sultan Salahuddin Owaisi, form M.P. and president, All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), said that it was a welcome step but the government should ensure that concrete steps should be taken to implement it. 

The All India Christian Council has also welcomed the five- percent reservation given to Muslims, describing it as a step in the right direction for improvement of the minority community.

On the other hand, the BJP has condemned the decision. Even the TDP termed it as “unfortunate” and said that it was Congress’ votebank policy to woo minorities. BJP floor leader in the state assembly, G. Kishen Reddy stalled the proceedings of the assembly for half an hour demanding a discussion on the issue. Raising the matter, Reddy said the government should have taken the assembly into confidence as it is in session. However, The legislative affairs minister, K. Rosaiah found nothing wrong in issuing the government order. Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said that it would lead to conversions. The VHP and the RSS have decided to protest the AP government decision, terming it as ‘minorityism’. They vowed to fight it “tooth and nail.” They have warned that this was a "retrograde move that would sow the dangerous seeds" of a new "communal movement inspired by the two-nation theory". They rejected it saying that it is religion-based reservation. BJP said that it would launch a nationwide agitation to protest the move. 

People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has termed the government’s decision as ‘its latest gimmick’ and warned that giving reservations on a community basis is a “divisive step.” 

Meanwhile, AP High Court on 16 July refused to grant a stay on the request of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) challenging the reservation. The hearing was done by Chief Justice Devinder Gupta and Justice C.V. Ramulu. The petition was filed by one Murlidhar who claimed that the decision is against the order of Supreme Court in Indira Sahini Case that stated that reservation should not increase beyond 50 percent. The High Court, however, in an interim order on 22 July suspended the government order. In its order the bench said a prime facie case has been made out by the petitioners and the balance of convenience would be to set apart five percent seats and not fill them till the final order. The case has been referred to a full bench of the high court. The AP Chief Minister said the government was planning to bring in legislation. 

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