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Govt. plan to establish minority universities faces legal hurdles
Friday May 24, 2013 8:22 PM, ummid.com & Agencies

A panel of experts has watered down a proposal by the UPA government to set up five minority universities, citing legal hurdles.

The committee, headed by Indian Council of Social Science Research chairman Sukhadeo Thorat, has suggested that the institutions be set up as central universities with their focus on minorities, instead of minority institutions as proposed, The Telegraph said in a report Wednesday.

The committee submitted its report to the minority affairs ministry last month, a senior official told The Telegraph.

Minister K. Rahman Khan had set up the Thorat committee to suggest modalities for establishing the five minority universities.

The panel was to suggest the norms, curricula, affiliations and locations of the institutions.

After a series of meetings with legal experts, the committee concluded that Parliament could not set up minority universities.

Under Article 30(1) of the Constitution, religious and linguistic minorities have the right to "establish and administer educational institutions of their choice".

The Aligarh Muslim University and Delhi's Jamia Millia Islamia, which are considered minority institutions now, were originally established by minority groups to promote the education of the community in pre-Independence India. They were given minority status later through acts of Parliament, a source said.

According minority status to educational institutions has remained a controversial issue. Such a tag allows an institution to reserve up to 50 per cent seats for the minority community. The Aligarh Muslim University's status has been challenged in the Supreme Court, and Jamia's in Delhi High Court.

"The (Thorat) committee has said the five institutions can be set up as central universities with their focus on minorities. It has said that Parliament cannot establish minority institutions," The Telegraph quoted its source.

The panel has suggested that informal arrangements be made by the universities to help minority communities by relaxing admission norms for minority students --- for instance, by awarding them grace marks in the entrance test.

A possible example could be Jawaharlal Nehru University, which awards extra marks in entrance tests to women candidates and students from backward districts.

The five universities can, if they wish, set up centres to study the socio-economic conditions of the minorities and suggest measures for their development, the committee said.

The minority affairs ministry had proposed the minority universities in 2007 but did not proceed further after the human resource development ministry cited legal hurdles.

Under Article 30(1) of the Constitution, Parliament can incorporate an existing institution as a minority institution or confer minority status on one set up by such communities, but it cannot establish an institution exclusively for minorities with public money, the human resource development ministry had said.

The Thorat committee has not formally suggested locations for the proposed universities.

The Telegraph quoting its sources said the committee felt that three of the universities should be set up in states with large Muslim populations, one in an area with a sizeable Buddhist population — preferably in Maharashtra — and the fifth in an area with a large Christian population, preferably in Kerala.

The minority affairs ministry's initiative is being seen as significant ahead of the Lok Sabha elections next year.

A ministry official said the plan was prompted by the Sachar Committee findings of 2006.

The UPA had earlier given its nod to establish five off campus centres of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). While the two centres in Kerala and West Bengal are functioning, there is little progress in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar.

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