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Jammu Kashmir

Posted at: Feb 9, 2018, 8:24 PM; last updated: Feb 9, 2018, 9:22 PM (IST)

Centre, Mehbooba govt at loggerheads over minority panel in J&K

State objects to Attorney-General’s submission; terms it ‘erroneous’
Centre, Mehbooba govt at loggerheads over minority panel in J&K
File photo of J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti.
Satya Prakash

Tribune News Servic

New Delhi, February 9

Differences between BJP and PDP came to the fore on Friday after the Modi government accused the Mehbooba Mufi-led PDP-BJP government of going back on its word on setting up a commission for minorities in Jammu and Kashmir where Muslims constitute more than 68% of the population.

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Attorney-General KK Venugopal told a Bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra that the State of Jammu and Kashmir has “disowned” the understanding reached in meetings of the Joint Committee formed to consider giving minority rights to non-Muslims in the Muslim majority state. 

Venugopal said after initially showing some interest, the state government took a different stand in the joint meeting of Centre and state officials to discuss the issue, as directed by the court. There are officials from seven other states also where Hindus were in minority.

The bone of contention between the Centre and state was a paragraph in the minutes of the meeting of the Joint Committee wherein it was stated that the state government was “in principle” in agreement with the constitution of a State Minorities Commission in Jammu and Kashmir.

But Jammu and Kashmir government Advocate-General Jehangir Iqbal Ganai and advocate Shoeb Alam termed the Attorney-General’s statement “erroneous”. “No, we are not principally in agreement with having a State Minorities Commission in Jammu and Kashmir.”

Ganai and Alam stuck to the state’s affidavit filed in the top court wherein the PDP-BJP government said it would consider the “need and feasibility” of setting up a minority panel at an appropriate time. 

The Bench asked the Jammu and Kashmir government to spell out its final stand on setting up a state commission for minorities and posted the matter for hearing after four weeks.

Advocate Ankur Sharma—who has filed a PIL seeking a direction to the state to establish a State Minorities Commission—has accused the Mehbooba government of denying minority right to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Christians in Jammu and Kashmir. Sharma, a Jammu-based advocate alleged that the benefits meant for minorities were going to the majority community, i.e., Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir. Sharma alleged that crores of rupees were being squandered away as the state was spending money on unidentified minorities.

According to the 2011 Census, Hindus constitute 28.4 per cent of the total population in Jammu and Kashmir, followed by Sikhs (1.9 per cent), Buddhists (0.9 per cent); and Christians (0.3 per cent). In the 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).

The top court had on December 11 said it can’t direct Jammu and Kashmir Assembly to enact a law to set up a minorities commission in the state where Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians are not identified as minorities despite being lesser in number than Muslims. 

The joint committee consisting of Union Minority Affairs Secretary, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Secretary and certain other officials was constituted pursuant to the court’s March 27 order. The panel is supposed to submit a joint proposal before the top court suggesting solutions to the problems faced by Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Christians owing to their non-identification as minorities in the state.

Even as the Modi government dithered on the issue, the Mehbooba government of Jammu and Kashmir had opposed creation of a minority commission in the state, saying it was not the only state where minorities declared under the National Commission for Minorities Act were in majority and there was no such body.

Terming it a “very very important issue,” the top court had asked both the governments to decide if Muslims can be treated as minority in the state where they outnumber other religious groups.

In an affidavit filed in the top court last year, the state government had opposed a petition filed by advocate Ankur Sharma in 2016 seeking a direction to the state to set up a minority commission in the state to safeguard the interests of religious and linguistic minorities.

The state government’s affidavit stated: “There are other states/Union Territories in the country where such population (declared minorities under the NCM Act) is in majority. The situation is similar in the states of Meghalaya, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Punjab and Lakshadweep.” It had said that the central Act was not applicable to the state and as such it did not have to set up a state-level minorities’ commission.

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