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Welfare panel for minority quota

New Delhi, Sept. 29: The cabinet has in a politically-loaded decision cleared the constitution of a national commission to recommend welfare measures, including reservation for socially and economically backward sections among religious and linguistic minorities.

The commission will lay the ground rules for identifying these sections, outline measures that can be taken for their welfare and recommend constitutional amendments that would be needed to implement its recommendations.

The panel is expected to lead to the introduction of another layer of reservations. Information and broadcasting minister S. Jaipal Reddy refused any comment, saying it would amount to prejudging the commission's outcome.

In line with a commitment made in the United Progressive Alliance's common minimum programme, the cabinet decision comes within days of the high court striking down the Andhra Pradesh government's move to introduce reservation for Muslims.

The Centre has taken care to avoid a similar situation by taking one step at a time.

The proposed commission, approved at a 90-minute meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, has been tasked to give recommendations on three points within six months.

Reddy said its terms of reference would include suggesting the criteria for identification of socially and economically backward sections among religious and linguistic minorities, recommending welfare measures ' this would include reservations in education and government employment ' and suggesting necessary constitutional, legal and administrative modalities for implementation.

There is a Supreme Court bar on reservations exceeding 50 per cent. But officials suggested that if the government desired, there could be a way around the ceiling by moving amendments to the Constitution.

But the first task would be to identify the linguistic and religious minorities who, Reddy said, would vary from state to state. The Marathi-speaking people of Andhra Pradesh and Telugu-speaking people of Karnataka would qualify as linguistic minorities, he said by way of an example.

The cabinet also decided to revisit the previous National Democratic Alliance government's 2002 move to lift a 47-year bar on foreign investment in newspaper and magazine publishing companies.

Reddy said the cabinet has decided to set up a Group of Ministers to take a comprehensive look at the 'entire policy paradigm' of the print-media sector in view of the emerging scenario and the decisions taken by the NDA regime.

The GoM decision was taken in view of differences within the cabinet on Reddy's proposal to amend the law to bar foreign newspapers from publishing in India rather than leave it to a 1955 cabinet resolution that could not be legally enforced.

The I&B ministry had proposed changes in the Press and Registration of Books Act to ensure adherence to the cabinet resolution in the light of the publication of the International Herald Tribune from India.

The cabinet 'took note' of the previous regime's decisions to permit 26 per cent FDI in publications, periodicals and newspapers dealing with news and current affairs; 74 per cent FDI in technical and scientific journals, and disallow syndication of content beyond 7.5 per cent.

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