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UPA works on quota for Muslims

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SANJAY K. JHA Published 24.11.11, 12:00 AM

New Delhi, Nov. 23: The Manmohan Singh government has decided to create a sub-quota for Muslims within the 27 per cent reservation for Other Backward Castes (OBCs) and an announcement is likely before the Uttar Pradesh elections next summer.

Sources said inter-ministerial consultations had been completed and the law ministry was finalising the contours of the proposal to be placed before the Union cabinet in the next few weeks.

Indications are that a sub-quota of 6 per cent within the 27 per cent OBC quota is being worked out. It will apply to government jobs and educational institutions.

A senior Congress leader said: “The aim is to get this done before the Uttar Pradesh election. We have learnt that the minority affairs ministry has already submitted a proposal to the Prime Minister’s Office. The PMO has sought the view of the ministry of social justice, the nodal ministry for implementation of reservations. They (the social justice ministry) have now sent their response to the law ministry.”

The Congress has debated the issue and Sonia Gandhi is learnt to have given her approval.

Initially, however, there was confusion in the government about the modalities of providing reservation to Muslims but that appears to have been sorted out.

Although there is no provision for reservation in the Constitution on the basis of religion, many state governments have earmarked separate quotas for Muslims on the ground of backwardness.

While the plan was being discussed, some had suggested the Andhra Pradesh model where the entire Muslim community has been declared backward and given a separate 4 per cent quota.

Others favoured a sub-quota within the 27 per cent reservation. They pointed out that such a move wouldn’t require a constitutional amendment but only a government notification, obviating the need to get a parliamentary sanction.

The Andhra model has a problem, though. Its constitutional validity is being examined by the Supreme Court, after the high court ruled by a majority of 5:2 that the act declaring the entire community backward was unsustainable and violative of Article 14 (equality before law) of the Constitution.

The former Left government in Bengal had also decided to set aside a 10 per cent quota for Muslims within the 27 per cent quota. But in July this year, over a month after coming to power, Mamata Banerjee announced a bill for government job reservation for Muslims and said the 10 per cent quota the Left government had introduced would be scrapped.

Several states including Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu have crossed the 50 per cent bar set by the Supreme Court on quotas and given reservation to Muslims by declaring the entire community backward. In Tamil Nadu, there is separate quota of 3.5 per cent for Muslims and Christians.

The Ranganath Mishra Commission recommended reservation for Muslims in the “backward” category and the argument was buttressed by the Sachar Committee findings showing extreme backwardness in the entire community.

Several Muslim organisations have demanded reservations, arguing that there should be no discrimination by citing religion because backwardness, the overriding factor, has been established by the Sachar committee.

The Congress had promised to explore the possibility of reservation for Muslims in its manifesto for the 2009 general elections.

Both the Samajwadi Party and the ruling BSP, the main players in Uttar Pradesh, have been raising the issue in the election-bound state.

Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi explained the need for the sub-quota. “Around 64 per cent Muslims are already eligible to get reservation in the 27 per cent quota for OBCs but merely 3 per cent are able to avail of it. Because of illiteracy and extreme backwardness, Muslims cannot compete with Yadavs and Kurmis who corner the maximum gains. It is important Muslims get a sub-quota, which we are committed to give. But it is also the responsibility of Muslims to educate their children and make them eligible for this policy initiative.”

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