Today: Jun 16, 2024

Plea in SC challenges Centre’s decision to set up panel to examine granting SC status to religious converts

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New Delhi: A plea has been filed in the Supreme Court challenging the formation of a commission headed by former CJI K G Balakrishnan to examine giving Scheduled Caste status to people who claim to have historically belonged to the SCs but have converted to Christianity or Islam.

The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950 (amended from time to time) says that no person professing a religion other than Hinduism or Sikhism, or Buddhism can be deemed to be a member of a Scheduled Caste.

The plea filed by advocate Pratap Baburao Pandit contended he was a Christian of Scheduled Caste origin belonging to the Mahar community.

The petitioner submitted that the Union government has formed multiple commissions over the years and the appointment of a new commission will further delay the hearing of the issue in the apex court.

The top court is already seized of a number of petitions which were filed in 2004.

“The petitioner is aggrieved because the main Writ Petition (Civil) No. 180/ 2004 and related petitions are pending for the past 18 years. The apprehension of the petitioner is that if the present commission is allowed, the hearing on the main petition may be further delayed causing irreparable damage to the Christians of Scheduled caste origin, who are denied this SC privileges for the last 72 years.

“It is also affecting the fundamental rights of the affected community, giving speedy justice is mandatory as per Article 21,” the plea, filed through advocate Franklin Caesar Thomas, said.

Besides Balakrishnan, the three-member panel includes retired IAS officer Ravinder Kumar Jain and member UGC Professor Sushma Yadav, according to a gazette notification issued by the Social Justice and Empowerment ministry.

The panel will examine the matter of giving Scheduled Caste status to new persons, who claim to have historically belonged to the Scheduled Castes but have converted to a religion other than those mentioned in the Presidential Orders issued from time to time under article 341 of the Constitution.

The Centre had earlier told the apex court that the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950 does not suffer from any “unconstitutionality” and the exclusion of Christianity and Islam was due to the reason that the “oppressive system” of untouchability was not prevalent in either of these two religions.

The government had said it has not accepted the report of the Justice Ranganath Misra Commission, which had recommended inclusion of Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims in the Scheduled Castes list, as it was “flawed”.