The Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear a petition challenging the Centre’s decision to form a panel to examine Schedule Caste status for Dalits who converted to Christianity or Islam, reported Live Law.
On October 6, Centre had appointed a commission to examine the matter of according Scheduled Caste status to Dalits who have converted to religions that are not mentioned in the Presidential orders under Article 341 of the Constitution. The order states that the Scheduled Caste status is available only to persons of Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist faiths.
The petition contended that the commission may delay the hearing on another petition at the Supreme Court that is pending for nearly 20 years and causing “irreparable damage” to the Christians of Scheduled caste origin, reported Live Law.
Mon-governmental organisation Centre for Public Interest Litigation had filed the plea in 2004.
“The government in its wisdom has appointed a commission,” a bench comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and AS Oka said on Monday. “You [petitioner] are challenging the constitution of that commission. Which rule or which law allows you to do that?”
The court also said that that there was no relevant ground to quash the appointment of the commission. However, it added that the court may examine the same issue in the pending petition.
In a notification issued in October last year, the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment had said that the matter is “seminal and historically complex sociological and constitutional question” which makes it of public importance.
The commission is headed by former Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan and also includes retired Indian Administrative Service officer Ravinder Kumar Jain and member of the University Grants Commission Professor Sushma Yadav.
The commission will look into the implications of how including new persons into the Scheduled Caste category will impact the already-existing ones. It will also examine the changes Scheduled Caste persons go through on converting to other religions in terms of customs, traditions, social and other status discriminations.
However, Union Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment A Narayanaswamy had told the Lok Sabha during the Winter Session last month that it has not formed the commission to study the probabilities of providing Scheduled Caste status for Dalit converts.
In August last year, the Supreme Court had sought Centre’s response while hearing the pending plea claiming that the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order of 1950 that was amended to say that only Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs will be considered to be Scheduled Castes discriminates on grounds of religion.
The Centre for Public Interest Litigation had cited the Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission report released in 2007 that said Dalits in other religions are subjected to the same discrimination as in Hinduism.
However, in an affidavit in November, the Union government had opposed the Scheduled Caste status for Dalit converts, contending that the system of untouchability does not exist in the two religions.