AMU case: Supreme Court observes regulation by statute doesn’t deny minority status to educational institutions

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India Tomorrow

NEW DELHI—In a significant development, the Supreme Court’s Constitution Bench, led by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, asserted during the hearing on the minority status of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) that regulatory control by a statute does not negate an educational institution’s minority status.

The case, stemming from appeals against the 2006 Allahabad High Court verdict that rejected AMU’s minority status, was referred to the 7-judge bench by Chief Justice R Gogoi in 2019.

 Now the Constitution Bench, consisting of Justices Sanjiv Khanna, Surya Kant, JB Pardiwala, Dipankar Datta, Manoj Misra, and Satish Chandra Sharma, is currently examining the nuances of “establish and administer” as defined in Article 30 of the Constitution. Additionally, it is evaluating the impact of a 1981 amendment and the role of statutes in determining minority status for educational institutions.

Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, representing AMU, argued on the opening day that several deemed universities under the University Grants Commission (UGC) enjoy minority status despite statutory regulation. Emphasizing the need for a constitutional perspective, Dhavan balanced liberal education with religious instruction.

In response, Chief Justice Chandrachud stated that statutory restrictions do not strip an institute of its minority character. He highlighted Article 30, which uses the phrase “establish and administer,” and noted there is no absolute standard for administration by minorities in a regulated society.

The bench underscored that minority institutions can administer purely secular educational courses while maintaining their minority status. The bench stated, “You don’t have to be administering only religious courses; you can be administering a purely secular educational institution. The law is not that you only admit students of your community; you can admit from any community without forcing because it is the right of establishment in administration.”

The ongoing arguments include a re-examination of the 1967 Azeez Basha verdict, which denied AMU’s minority status. On the second day of the hearing, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing AMU, referred to Article 19(1)(g) and Article 26, highlighting citizens’ and religious groups’ rights to establish and maintain educational institutions.

Sibal shed light into the historical context of AMU’s establishment, emphasizing its genesis in a movement within the minority community for a university beyond religious education. The discussion also addressed the 1981 amendment and its impact on interpreting AMU’s minority status. Sibal argued that the amendment did not alter the fundamental basis of the institution’s minority character, urging the court to reconsider precedents set by the 1968 apex court judgment in the A. Basha case.

Timeline of the AMU case:

•             1875: Sir Syed Ahmad Khan established the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental (MOA) College, promoting education among the Muslim community.

•             1920: MAO became Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) through an Act of Parliament.

•             1967: The Supreme Court denied AMU’s minority status, citing changes in governance structure under the 1920 Act.

•             1981: Parliament amended the Act, explicitly declaring AMU a “minority institution established by the Muslims of India.”

•             2005: Allahabad High Court struck down the 1981 amendment and AMU’s 50% reservation for Muslims in postgraduate medical courses.

•             2006: AMU and the UPA-led union government challenged the High Court decision in the Supreme Court.

•             2016: The BJP-led government withdrew previous UPA government in the case.

•             2019: The case was referred to the present constitutional bench by the then CJI-led three-judge bench.

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