- Freedom of religion in India is a fundamental right guaranteed by Article 25-28 of the Constitution of India.
- The Supreme Court in a recent judgement has held that the state is well within its rights to introduce a regulatory regime in the “national interest” to provide minority educational institutions with well-qualified teachers in order for them to “achieve excellence in education.”
- The judgment came in connection with a case that concerned the validity of the West Bengal Madrasah Service Commission Act 2008, which had constituted a commission to appoint teachers in madrasas.
What did the Supreme Court rule?
- Upholding the validity of the 2008 Act, the apex court held that the commission was made up of persons with knowledge of Islamic culture and theology and that the provisions of the Act were “specially designed” for madrasas.
- The court held that the Act was “not violative of the rights of the minority educational institutions on any count”.
- The court held that minority institutions cannot ignore such a legal regime on the grounds that it is their fundamental right under Article 30 of the constitution to establish and administer their educational institutions.
What is Article 30 all about?
Article 30 upholds the right of the minorities “to establish and administer educational institutions. It reads:
- Article 30(1) says that all minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.
- Article 30(1A) deals with the fixation of the amount for acquisition of property of any educational institution established by minority groups.
- Article 30(2) states that the government should not discriminate against any educational institution on the ground that it is under the management of a minority, whether based on religion or language while giving aid.
Why minorities need special rights?
- The idea to make the provision for minorities to protect their educational right is not inequality towards the privileged classes but it definitely gives the sense of security to the minority class people.
- It is clear from the census that the minorities in India are not well-off when compared with the privileged class.
- Therefore, it is important to give the minorities certain legal rights, thus helping them uplifting their position in society.
Classification of Minorities under Article 30
I. Religious Minorities
- The six community groups existing in India are Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Christians and Zoroastrians.
- These communities have been nominated as minorities by the union government. India is a multi-religious country.
- Out of these communities, some of the community groups are greater in number and they are stated as majority communities.
- The basic ground for a community to be nominated as a religious minority is the numerical strength of the community.
- For example, in India, Hindus are the majority community. As India is a multi-religious country, it becomes important for the government to conserve and protect the religious minorities of the country.
- The National Commission for Minorities (NCM) was established by the government in 1992 to protect the rights and interests of the minority groups.
II. Linguistic Minorities
- Class or group of people whose mother language or mother tongue is different from that of the majority groups is known as the linguistic minorities.
- The Constitution of India protects the interest of these linguistic minorities.
Article 30 is not absolute
- The verdict said that Article 30(1) (right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice) was neither absolute nor above the law.
- The regulatory law should, however, balance the dual objectives of ensuring standard of excellence as well as preserving the right of the minorities to establish and administer their educational institutions.
- Regulations that embrace and reconcile the two objectives should be reasonable.
- The managements of minority institutions cannot ignore such a legal regime by saying that it is their fundamental right under Article 30.
Is Article 30 diluted now?
- To achieve a balance between the twin objectives of ensuring excellence in education and preserving the right of minorities, the court said, it divides education into two categories.
- They are the secular education and education “directly aimed at or dealing with preservation and protection of the heritage, culture, script and special characteristics of a religious or a linguistic minority.”
- On the latter, the court advocated that “maximum latitude” be given to the management to appoint teachers.
- The court also holds that only “teachers who believe in the religious ideology or in the special characteristics of the concerned minority would alone be able to imbibe in the students admitted in such educational institutions, what the minorities would like to preserve, profess and propagate.
- However, when it comes to the second category, the governing criteria must be to see to it that the most conducive atmosphere is put in place where the institution achieves excellence and imparts best possible education.
- If the subjects in the curriculum are purely secular in character, that is to say, subjects like Arithmetic, Algebra, Physics, Chemistry or Geography, the intent must be to impart education availing the best possible teachers,” the bench said.
- Where the curriculum was “purely secular”, the intent must be to impart education by availing the best teachers.
Significance of the Judgement
Besides safeguarding the rights of religious and linguistic minorities to establish educational institutions of their choice, the Article categorically directs the government to ensure that the minority rights do not get abrogated in case of compulsory acquisition of educational institutions run by minorities.
- The clause (1A) was inserted in the Article during the 44th amendment of the Indian Constitution in 1978.
- The primary objective behind including this clause was to make sure that the acquisition of minority institution should be followed by ‘conformable compensation.’
- The clause (2) of Article 30 further creates a level playing field for the minority institutions.
- It states that the government shall not discriminate against any educational institution run by a religious or linguistic minority while granting aid.
Serving the national interest
- A regulation framed in the national interest must necessarily apply to all institutions regardless whether they are run by majority or minority as the essence of Article 30(1) is to ensure equal treatment between the majority and minority institutions.
- An objection can certainly be raised if an unfavourable treatment is meted out to an educational institution established and administered by minority.
- But if ensuring of excellence in educational institutions is the underlying principle behind a regulatory regime and the mechanism of selection of teachers is so designed to achieve excellence in institutions, the matter may stand on a completely different footing.
- The court explains how to strike a “balance” between the two objectives of excellence in education and the preservation of the minorities’ right to run their educational institutions.
- For this, the court broadly divides education into two categories – secular education and education “directly aimed at or dealing with preservation and protection of the heritage, culture, script and special characteristics of a religious or a linguistic minority.”
- When it comes to the latter, the court advocated “maximum latitude” to be given to the management to appoint teachers.
- The court reasons that only “teachers who believe in the religious ideology or in the special characteristics of the concerned minority would alone be able to imbibe in the students admitted in such educational institutions, what the minorities would like to preserve, profess and propagate.”
- However, minority institutions where the curriculum was “purely secular”, the intent must be to impart education availing the best possible teachers.