A Supreme Court bench led by Chief Justice JS Khehar asked the Centre and Jammu and Kashmir government on Monday as to why a panel is not being constituted to protect the rights of minorities (Hindus, Sikhs, etc.) in the state.

“It is a very very important subject…the manner in which the whole issue has emerged…this has to be kept in mind…if some protection has to be extended to a particular community who will do it other than you?” Khehar asked additional solicitor general Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the Modi government and had merely said that the demand is being ‘looked into’.

Mehta and senior advocate Gopal Subramaniam were directed to ensure that representatives of the Centre and state government sit together and sort out the issue. They were asked to file a report in the court in four weeks.

The direction came after the CJI took serious note of a PIL filed by Jammu-based lawyer Ankur Sharma, which contended that in the absence of a minority commission, the benefits exclusively meant for minority communities like Hindus and Sikhs, including aid worth crores, are being given away to the Muslim community in an ‘illegal and arbitrary’ manner.

According to the 2011 census, Muslims constitute about 68.3 per cent of the state’s population. Among minorities, 28.4 per cent are Hindus, followed by Sikhs (1.9 per cent), Buddhists (0.9 per cent), and Christians (0.3 per cent). In Kashmir valley, about 96.4 per cent are Muslims, followed by Hindus (2.45 per cent), Sikhs (0.98 per cent) and others (0.17 per cent).

‘ LET US START IN J&K’ 

Significantly, the CJI also said that in those cases where minority panels haven’t been set up in other states need not be cited in the pertinent case and J&K shall be treated as a special case. “You work it out and tell us… forget about other states. For the moment, let us start here (J&K). Sit together and submit a proposal to the court within four weeks,” Khehar said.

Questioning the petitioner’s motive and opposing the creation of a minority commission, the Mehbooba Mufti led PDP-BJP government affidavit had said: “The states of Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Odisha, Sikkim, Andaman, and several UTs have not set up minority commissions.

The present petition only seeks its establishment in J&K. In case the present petition has been filed in public interest, he should have prayed for its setting up in all these states.” Sharma argued that Hindus in J&K are unable to benefit from central and state welfare schemes for minorities. The Union government indirectly recognises Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Christians of J&K as ‘minorities’.

Sharma wants the SC to order setting up of a state minority commission to identify religious and linguistic minorities, or to appoint a panel of experts under its supervision to submit a report on religious and linguistic minority communities in J&K.

This, despite the fact that the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992, is not applicable to J&K and thus, recognising Muslims as ‘minorities’ is whimsical and illegal, he said.