Minority interests PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 09 January 2020 00:00
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Sarthak edit 

The Supreme Court upholding the constitutionality of the West Bengal Madrasah Service Commission Act 2008, observing that minority institutions don’t enjoy “an absolute and unqualified right of appointment”, sets a welcome precedent. It opens the doors for the government to regulate the appointment of teachers at such institutions, in order to ensure excellence in education. The SC overturned the 2015 verdict of the Calcutta High Court that had declared the Act ultra vires of Article 30 of the Constitution that preserves the right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutes, saying that it violated the right of the minority institution to appoint its own teachers. The SC judgment, by Justices Arun Mishra and UU Lalit, underscores the need to strike a balance between the upholding the academic interest of students & preserving standards of excellence and the right of minorities to establish/administer educational institutions.

To be sure, government regulation must mean that experts do the selection rather than it facilitating political appointments—in the West Bengal case, the Act mandates that the chairperson of the committee be an eminent educationist with profound knowledge in Islamic culture, while three other members are eminent educationists with one having deep knowledge of Islamic theology, and the fifth being a legal/administrative expert.

The bench invoked a clutch of judgments, including the 2002 TMA Pai Foundation one delivered by a 11-judge bench, that held, “The right under Article 30(1) cannot be such as to override the national interest or to prevent the government from framing regulations in that behalf… the right under Article 30 is not so absolute as to be above the law.” The SC, in the present case, observed that regulation framed in the national interest must apply to all institutions regardless of the community that runs them. The court relied on the secular/ otherwise touchstone adopted in the TMA Pai case to offer clarity on what would constitute national interest. In the TMA Pai case, the apex court had considered two categories of institutions—one that imparts education “dealing with preservation and protection of the heritage, culture, script and special characteristics of a religious or linguistic minority” and another that deals with “secular education”. In the present matter, the SC said, “In the first category, maximum latitude may be given to the managements of the concerned minority institutions… However, when it comes to the second category of institutions, the governing criteria must be to see … the institution achieves excellence and imparts best possible education.”

Pushing merit over other considerations for teaching of “secular” subjects at minority institutions ensures that students don’t lag their peers at non-minority institutions—a 2014 study in Karnataka had shown that 80% of madrassa students did not get to learn science, mathematics and social science while over half didn’t get to learn English—all subjects that are key to future employability.


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