Supreme Court to examine quota for Dalit Christians

New Delhi, India - The Supreme Court said on Monday that it would examine the constitutional validity of paragraph 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Orders, 1950, which deprives Scheduled Castes of reservation benefits on their conversion to Christianity.

A three-judge Bench, comprising Chief Justice Y.K. Sabharwal, Justice C.K. Thakker and Justice R.V. Raveendran, posted the matter to February 2006 for further directions. It asked Additional Solicitor-General Gopal Subramaniam to inform the court on the progress of the Justice Ranganath Misra Commission, which is studying the question.

"No discrimination"

It asked Mr. Subramaniam: "Can discrimination be made on the ground of religion, and whether such a discrimination is not violative of Articles 14, 15 and 25 of the Constitution." He told the court that there was no discrimination based on religion, and it was only based on social status, untouchability and comparable disability.

The Bench said: "We express no opinion at this stage on the issues involved as we may have to hear the matter in detail." It made it clear that it was not linking the recommendations that might be made by the Commission with the petitions before the court.

The Bench was hearing petitions filed by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation and others challenging the constitutional validity of paragraph 3 of the 1950 Presidential Order, under which Scheduled Castes people professing and converting to religions different from Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism were deprived of reservation benefits.

Panel studying issue

Mr. Subramaniam told the court that the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities had been asked to give its recommendations on the issues raised in these petitions, in the context of 50 per cent ceiling on reservation as per the Mandal judgment.

He said the Commission had visited seven States to ascertain the views of the State Governments. It was also interacting with non-governmental organisations and the communities concerned, and conducting research on whether members of the Scheduled Castess suffered the same disabilities even after conversion. The Commission was expected to finalise its recommendations by April 2006; only then would the Government be able to address the issues raised.

Appearing for CPIL, counsel Prashant Bhushan contended that the 1950 Order violated the right to equality, guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution, as the Scheduled Castes people converting to Christianity were deprived of the benefit given to people from the same community belonging to other religions.

There could not be any distinction between SC converts to Sikhism and Buddhism and to Christianity. The Commission would have a role to play only after the court held the provision unconstitutional.

Hence the matter should not be adjourned till the recommendations, which are likely to come by the end of April next.