The Centre on Monday told the Supreme Court it has got the power to declare communities as minorities, but since the issue has far-reaching ramifications throughout the country, it should be allowed to have a detailed deliberation and wide consultation with the states and other stakeholders before finalising its stand.
Responding to a plea concerning the declaration of minorities for running educational institutions, the Centre said the discussion was necessary to "obviate any unintended complications in future with regard to such a vital issue," it added.
On March 27, the Union government has told the court that certain states, where Hindus or other communities are less in number, can declare them a minority community within its territory to enable them to set up and administer their own institutions.
However, the Union government changed its stand, saying it "undertook a detailed inter-ministerial discussion based upon which it was decided to file the present affidavit in supersession of the earlier affidavit."
In its fresh affidavit, the Centre said it had declared six communities Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, Zoroastrians, Buddhists and Jain's as minorities under the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992. These six communities have been adopted for the purposes of the National Commission for Minorities Educational Institutions Act, 2004.
"Though the power is vested with the central government to notify minorities, the stand to be formulated with regard to issues raised in the group of PILs will be finalised after having a wide consultation with the state governments and other stakeholders," it said.
"This will ensure that the central government is able to place a considered view before the court after taking into consideration several sociological and other aspects obviating any unintended complications in future with regard to such a vital issue," it added.
The government's response came in a PIL by BJP leader and advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay.
In his plea, Upadhyay sought a direction to the Centre to lay down guidelines for the identification of minorities at the state level, saying the Hindus are in the minority in 10 states and are not able to avail the benefits of schemes meant for minorities.