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Sunday , March 7 , 2010
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Minority ache for schools
- 30% rule to hit Christian institutes

Till now Minority educational institutions did not need to ensure a minimum percentage of students from a particular community. The minority tag grants institutions protection from government intervention

Now Minority status can be laimed only if an institution has at least 30 per cent students from that community

What it means Rule effectively encourages
Christian institutions to introduce quotas for the community — like Delhi’s St. Stephen’s College

New Delhi, March 6: Top Christian academic institutions run the risk of losing their minority unless they step up the number of students from the community or challenge in court a requirement set by an arbitrator.

The status has come under strain following a series of rulings by the country’s apex minority education watchdog that said at least 30 per cent of students in a minority establishment should be from that particular community.

Few Christian institutions in the country at present fulfil the 30 per cent criteria as they admit a large number of students from other communities. The rulings apply to all minorities but institutions run by Muslims and Sikhs usually have a majority of students from the respective communities and are unlikely to be impacted by the new directives.

According to the orders passed by the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI), the institutes will now need to ensure a minimum “reasonable” percentage of students from a minority community to claim the tag of minority institution.

In several cases of Christian-run institutions seeking minority status earlier this week, NCMEI chairman Justice M.S.A. Siddiqui has insisted that institutions with less than 30 per cent students from the community cannot claim the label.

“I have ordered that an institution must have a minimum, reasonable percentage of students from a particular minority community for that community to claim the institution as a minority institution. I have set the figure at 30 per cent,” Justice Siddiqui told The Telegraph.

Siddiqui said his rulings were based on his interpretation of the 2005 P.A. Inamdar judgment of the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court’s judgments on education have often fuelled debate on the maximum number of students from a minority community to be allowed into premier minority institutions.

But this is the first time that the Supreme Court’s orders have been interpreted to demand a minimum percentage of students from a minority community for institutions to earn or retain the minority tag.

These orders mean that many Christian institutions that are household names in the country risk losing minority status unless they admit at least three Christians among every 10 students.

The institutions do not officially disclose the religion-wise profile of students. But administrators confirmed that despite giving preference to Christians, the percentage of students from the community at these institutions is generally less than 30 per cent -- so their minority status could be challenged before the NCMEI.

Minority status allows educational institutions far greater autonomy from government intervention than other colleges or universities.

The NCMEI has the powers of a civil court and was set up in 2004 by then human resource development minister Arjun Singh to act as India’s apex arbitrator on disputes surrounding minority education.

Its orders must be based on judgments of higher courts. But once passed, the NCMEI’s orders are binding, unless challenged in a higher court.

The landmark Inamdar judgement is frequently cited to argue in favour of autonomy of minority educational institutions from the government. But the judgement does not state a minimum percentage of students an institution needs from a minority community to claim minority status.

The NCMEI chairman, a retired judge, accepted that the Inamdar judgment did not lay down a minimum percentage of students required. But 30 per cent, he said, is a reasonable number.

Most top Christian institutions do not have a community quota though they prefer Christian students -- if all other qualification parameters are identical.

“The order effectively forces us to adopt quotas which in turn would invite a backlash from students of other communities,” said the lawyer for one of the Christian schools denied minority status earlier this week because of inadequate students from the community.

Delhi’s St. Stephen’s College had faced flak when it decided in 2008 to introduce a 50 per cent Christian quota -- which it has since struggled to fill.

Siddiqui was recently re-appointed for a second term at the head of the commission.

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