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Published in the 16-31 March 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

ISSUES

The National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions

By Iqbal A. Ansari

The Milli Gazette Online

Like in the past the Congress-led UPA Government has been again showing concern for the educational development of Muslims, who along with neo-Buddhists, were declared educationally most backward in the National Policy on Education (NPE) and POA of 1986 which declared during Rajiv Gandhi’s hey days, a whole range of affirmative educational programmes for the uplift of Muslims. The POA (1986) got reiterated and approved by the Parliament in 1992, under Mr. Arjun Singh’s stewardship of the HRD Ministry. Later review of implementation of schemes envisaged for Muslims revealed a dismal picture of non-performance. Except for a few centres for coaching classes and a few junior level ITIs, none of the proposed schemes got implemented 

Now the Government of India’s dire political need to impress upon Muslims its earnestness about their development, has made it rush through an Ordinance followed by a Bill to constitute a National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI). 

The eminence and integrity of the present incumbents notwithstanding the provision of mode of their appointment by the Government of India and not through an inclusive panel ensuring independence of the incumbents from government is questionable. The National Commission for Minorities Act (1992) suffers from the same basic infirmity, which makes the chairman and members feel that they owe their office to the Ministers in the present government. The original ordinance on the NHRC had similar provision, which under pressure from the human rights groups, had to be replaced by an inclusive panel to ensure independence of the Commission from the Government. 

The Commission is the outcome of successful lobbying by private aided and unaided minority professional colleges, whose managers face problems with respective state governments. It would have been better if instead of addressing a specific need, the Government had realized that most of the problems that minority educational institutions including professional colleges have been facing for a long time, not only during the NDA regime, in securing recognition and affiliation with respective State Universities, and in getting grants and fixing of minority quota of seats, all derive from the fact that Universities and Boards of Education at all levels were never directed to give due consideration to the rights of minorities under Articles 29 & 30 in their Acts, statutes, ordinances and rules and regulations, a glaring example of which was non-recognition by the Delhi University of the rights of the St. Stephens’ College, Delhi to have its own admission procedure as a minority institution, which was upheld by the Supreme Court.

We had suggested to the National Commission For Minorities (NCM) during the Chairmanship of Prof. Tahir Mahmood to impress upon the Central and State Governments to make all concerned bodies and departments give due consideration to rights of minorities as interpreted by the higher judiciary while framing laws, statutes, ordinances and rules, so that these institutions are not forced to seek legal remedy every time they are harassed by hostile political dispensation and the bureaucracy. 

In view of this what is required is the reformulation of guidelines binding on all educational authorities in the country controlling/supervising all levels of education for recognition, affiliation, grants and admission procedure in the light of the judgments of the higher judiciary. But still problems arise because of ambiguities in the judgments and also owing to entrenched prejudices and distorted view of secularism and national interest. 

With regard to affiliation of colleges I had submitted the opinion to the committee constituted by the UGC to look into the problem, that no constitutional amendment was required and that education being on the concurrent list, it should be possible for minority colleges to seek affiliation to State or Central Universities, subject to the existence of the provision of affiliation in the respective Acts of the concerned Universities.

The NCMEI’s ordinance/Bill provides for the right of minority colleges to seek affiliation to any scheduled university of its choice. Though the present list consists of six universities, the Central Government has the power to add any other university to the list. It will however depend on the willingness of the concerned University, like the Aligarh Muslim University, to amend its Act to provide for affiliation of minority colleges.

The provisions related to powers and functions of the Commission and structuring of the power relationship between a University, the Central Government and the Commission are too arbitrary, even contradictory and in some cases vague and subjective to be able to stand the test of judicial review. For example clause 12 provides for making universities subservient to the Commission whose writ shall prevail in case of any dispute, whereas under clause 20(1)& (2) it is the Central Government whose directions on policy matters relating to ‘national purposes’ that will be binding on the Commission. Is this hierarchy with the government at the top and university at bottom conceivable in any modern liberal democracy?

Though the Commission will enjoy the powers of the civil court while trying a suit, its role will be confined to rendering advice to the Central Government on matters referred to it. However it has been empowered to "look into specific complaints regarding deprivation or violation of rights of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice and any dispute relating affiliation to a Scheduled University and report its findings to the Central Government for its implementation". 

One can at best keep one’s fingers crossed to see how the Commission will function.
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