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Three Tricky Bills: MINORITIES AT UNEASE, by Syed Ali Mujtaba, 18 Jan, 2012 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 18 January 2012

Three Tricky Bills


By Syed Ali Mujtaba


The forthcoming elections in five States, particularly Uttar Pradesh, have yet again brought to the fore how political parties are brazenly vying with each other to woo the minority community, particularly the Muslims and Other Backward Classes (OBC), votes. However, for the Congress-led UPA Government, the going may get tougher as it has pushed three Bills, which are drawing flak from the minority community.


The three legislations, the Direct Taxes Code Bill 2010, Wakf (Amendment) Bill 2010 and the Right to Education Act 2009, apparently are a cause of concern among the minority community, as these would have a bearing on a number of its institutions. The Government would need to come out with some statement, if it can, to allay fears and soothe angered sentiments, particularly in UP, which has the largest concentration of Muslim community. It must, however, keep in mind that the Election Commission is watching and can ill afford a repeat of its appeasement policy getting struck down. Remember, the EC had asked the Government to put on hold its decision on 4.5 per cent sub-quota for minorities in the poll-bound States till the election process was completed.


Perhaps during its campaigning, Congress leaders can make extra effort to counter fears and justify its legislations. For one, the Direct Tax Code Bill 2010 (DTC Bill) proposes to tax donations received by charitable institutions that are meant to serve certain minority or community groups. The clause in question in the Bill, which the Centre is hoping to pass and bring in force by 2012, exempts trusts or institutions from availing income tax exemption on donations if these are meant to serve any particular minority or community group. To be more precise, the DTC Bill proposes a 30 per cent tax on donations received by institutions as long as they don’t promise to serve all communities, instead of focusing on any one particular group.


The Forum of Minority Institutions & Associations (FMIA) and the Federation of Charitable & Religious Trusts (FCRT) have lambasted the DTC Bill provisions on a variety of levels, ranging from taxation philosophy and jurisprudence to practicality and compassion. They argue that the Bill strikes at the basis of Indian society and undermines the religious character of its citizen. An Indian, true to his nation/religion cannot bear with this appalling legislation.


The FMIA and the FCRT are in fact campaigning that such trusts running minority educational institutions, hospitals, schools, etc  will be under sever financial strain if the Bill is passed as being presented and have urged the Centre to redraft the controversial sections of the DTC Bill.


Insofar as the Wakf Bill is concerned, the Government had with undue haste, got it passed in Lok Sabha on the last day of its winter session. This Bill is full of defects; even the definitions are defective and contain many provisions which will result in usurption and extinction of many Wakf properties.


As a result, Muslim outfits have raised apprehensions over some clauses of the Wakf (Amendment) Bill 2010, stating these "blatantly" ignore the recommendations of the Sachar Committee. The Bill which is awaiting Rajya Sabha's nod proposes a series of changes in the way the Wakf properties are managed across the nation.


Obviously, the Ministry of Minority Affairs, headed by Salman Khurshid who is also the law minister, may have overlooked and ignored vital recommendations of the Sachar committee as well as the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on the functioning of Wakf boards, and may need to have a re-look at the Bill.


For one, the compulsory Wakf surveys recommended by the Committee have been made optional, while suggestions of inclusion of all post-Independence cases of Wakf for survey have been dropped. This apart, treatment of Wakf survey commissioner's notification as deemed mutation for purposes of revenue records and determination of property title as suggested by the JPC, are too not part of the Bill. Further, the Ministry has apparently diluted the definition of the word "encroacher," which needs to be rectified. 


Given the above apprehensions, Muslim organizations have particularly urged the Archaeological Survey of India to thoroughly conserve the Wakf properties and demanded that structures such as mosques and other religious structure be allowed to be used for the "purposes they are meant for”. If the Government fails to heed to their demands, the organizations shall pitch for a public movement.


In the Right to Education Act 2009 there are two provisions that intrude into the rights of private educational institutions and more importantly the minority education institutions.

Section 3 of the Act has imposed an absolute mandate upon all schools including private unaided and minority institutions to admit without any choice each and every child whosoever comes to take admission in the said schools in the neighborhood.


Second, Section 21 of the RTE Act requires that 75 per cent of a school’s management committee should consist of guardians or parents. This provisions if implemented, would violate the Constitution and the National Commission for Minority Educational Institution Guidelines. Additionally, provisions of the Act violate the rights of private educational institutions under Article 19(1)(g) which provides maximum autonomy to private managements to run their institutions without any interference from the State.


It is pertinent to note that under Article 30 of the Constitution, minorities in India are allowed to run and administer their own education institutions, without any Government interference except in cases of alleged corruption. Besides, Articles 29 and 30 of the Constitution provide the right to preserve distinct minority languages, scripts and cultures. It also grants minorities the right to establish and administer their own educational institutions.


Therefore, it would not be wrong to state that the RTE Act strikes a lethal blow on the minority educational institutions; it not only compromises on the quality of education but also takes away autonomy of the management which has been guaranteed under the Constitution. In the above backdrop, the minority groups are urging the Government to bring certain amendments to the Act and ensure exemption of its educational institutions from the Act, particularly section 3 and 21.


Already in the dock over the its failure to get the Lokpal Bill passed, the UPA Government is now saddled with the wrath of the minority communities insofar as these Bills are concerned. It would be worth watching how it proposes to wriggle out of this mess, which threatens to make the going more difficult at the hustings. Unless it does some firefighting immediately, its slipping moral may not be arrested.---INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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