Gujarat to Supreme Court: Sachar panel illegal, only to help Muslims

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Terming UPA's pre-matriculation minority scholarship scheme as "arbitrary and discriminatory," the Gujarat government has told the Supreme Court that the Rajinder Sachar Committee was unconstitutional, and that its "target was to help Muslims only".

The affidavit — filed in response to the Centre's stand that the scheme was valid and that the Modi government was to blame for the "deteriorating condition" of Muslims in Gujarat — has strongly criticized the manner in which the PMO set up the Sachar panel in 2005 to survey the socio-economic conditions of Muslims, while ignoring other religious minorities.

"The Sachar Committee is neither constitutional nor statutory. It has not taken into consideration other religious communities, i.e. Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists and Parsis. Therefore, it cannot form the basis of the scheme... The Committee's target was to help the Muslims only," the state, which wants the scheme struck down, has contended.

Gujarat has moved the apex court against the majority verdict of the Gujarat High Court, ratifying the scholarship scheme meant for students belonging to five religious minorities, including Muslims. The Centre bears 75 per cent of the financial burden. The scheme was formulated as part of the Prime Minister's 15-point programme that came into effect in 2008.

The state government has contended that "if benefits are extended on the basis of religion, there shall be further alienation of these religious minorities" and that even under the constitutional scheme, favourable treatment given on the basis of religious categorisation was not allowed.

It has argued that expenditure was not a problem, but its constitutional validity was an issue — and that the government was against a scheme that had religion as its entry point. The affidavit said there were really vulnerable and weaker sections among the minorities too, and such classes were eligible for socio-economic and educational reservation benefits. "In spite of this clear position, the union government have declared religious groups as backward classes," the affidavit has stated.

It has added: "The scheme causes hostile discrimination between citizens since a far more meritorious student, who does not belong to any of the five religions, will be deprived of the benefits only on the ground that he does not belong to one of these religions whereas a less meritorious student belonging to one of these religions will be entitled to the benefit."

The Gujarat government maintained that the object of the scheme was to give relief to parents of five minorities so that their children could go to school, but there was no material to show that only these communities had this problem.

It asked that the scheme be struck down as unconstitutional also on the ground that it dented the doctrine of separation of powers between the Centre and states, and that there was no law enacted to back it.

Targeting the Modi government specifically over socio-economic conditions of Muslims in the state, the Centre in its affidavit had defended the scheme, while asserting that the 2002 riots had increased the sense of alienation among Muslims in Gujarat and further reduced their participation in the mainstream.

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