Thursday, April 21, 2005

SC Notice To Centre On Reservation For Dalit Converts To Christianity

The Hindu, April 12, 2005, Tuesday

NEW DELHI, APRIL 11. The Supreme Court today issued notice to the Government on a public interest litigation petition seeking extension of reservation to the Scheduled Caste people even after they convert to Christianity.

A Bench, comprising Chief Justice R.C. Lahoti and Justice G.P. Mathur, which in February said that it would examine this question, issued the notice to the Government after the Attorney-General, Milon Banerjee, pointed out that no formal notice had been issued. He said the Government would file its response. The Bench asked Mr. Banerjee and other parties to make brief submissions citing the relevant case laws and directed the listing of the matter for final disposal in August.

On a petition filed by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation, challenging the constitutional validity of Paragraph 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Orders, 1950 by which Scheduled Castes people professing and converting faith in religions different from Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism were deprived of reservation benefits, the court in October last had sought the views of the Attorney-General.

The Attorney-General, in his response, had submitted that as it was a policy matter, courts should keep out of it. He cited earlier apex court rulings holding that any amendment to the Presidential Order of 1950 regarding the inclusion of any particular community within the Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes was within the purview of the legislative action.

The petitioner contended that the 1950 order as it stood today violated the right to equality guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution as the Scheduled Castes converting to Christianity were deprived of the benefit given to those from the same community belonging to other religions. It pointed out that Scheduled Caste converts to Christianity, unlike tribals who had converted to Christianity, were still suffering from the social disabilities of the community, including untouchability. ``There cannot be any distinction between the Scheduled Castes converts to Sikhism and Buddhism and the Scheduled Castes converts to Christianity,'' it said seeking reservation benefits, including job and political reservations, for the latter category.