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Should Dalit Christians get reservation?
February 11, 2005 18:38 IST
Brushing aside the Centre's objection to court intervention in matters of inclusion of any particular community in the scheduled caste list, the Supreme Court on Friday agreed to examine the legality of the issue of reservation for Dalit Christians.
The apex court was reacting to a petition filed by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation demanding reservation for Dalits even after their conversion to Christianity.
Reservation is available to Dalits who follow Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism.
"It is a crucial issue and we will examine the legal side of the issue on the basis of the rulings cited by the petitioner and the Attorney General," a Bench comprising Chief Justice R C Lahoti and Justice G P Mathur said while adjourning the matter for four weeks.
Opposing the petition, Attorney General Milon Banerjee was curt and straight.
"It is matter of policy and legislation and the courts should keep out of it," he said, even while citing his correspondence with the government urging it to consider the issue "sympathetically".
The court kept with it the letters written by the attorney general to the government even as Banerjee said that the apex court itself had ruled that any amendment to the Presidential Order of 1950 regarding inclusion of any particular community with in the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe was within the purview of the legislative action.
The Bench said "it is a very important issue" and wanted to go through the previous rulings of the apex court on this issue.
Banerjee said that a request for inclusion of Dalit Christians within the category of Scheduled Caste had been rejected by the National Democratic Alliance government in 2002.
He said the apex Court had also ruled that the list of entries in the SC and ST categories under the Presidential Order was final and the courts could not "add or subtract".
However, appearing for the petitioner, senior advocate Shanti Bhushan contended that the earlier court rulings were given on the basis of scanty material and claimed that the petitioners have gathered "overwhelming" material to support its claim for reservation to Dalit Christians.
Citing a ruling of the apex court last year, where it was said that even if a tribal converted to Christianity, he or she could still avail of the reservation benefits as his/her status as ST remained unchanged, he said the same law laid down by the court should be applicable to Dalits after their conversion to Christianity.
Bhushan said that reservation was available to the Dalits while being a follower of Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism and there was no reason why Dalit Christians be not given the similar benefit.
The court on October 25 last year had asked the Attorney General to ascertain the Centre's view on the petition which challenged the legality of paragraph 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Orders, 1950 by which SC people professing and converting faith in religions other than Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism were deprived of reservation benefits.