The National Commission for Minorities (NCM) is in news for various reasons. In this post, let’s see the mandate of NCM and measures to make it more effective.
The Ministry of Home Affairs established the National Minorities Commission of India in a resolution on January 12, 1978. It mentioned that:
“despite the safeguards provided in the Constitution and the laws in force, there persists among the Minorities a feeling of inequality and discrimination. In order to preserve secular traditions and to promote National Integration, the Government of India attaches the highest importance to the enforcement of the safeguards provided for the Minorities in the Constitution”.
The Minorities Commission was detached from the Ministry of Home Affairs in 1984, and placed under the Ministry of Welfare. Once the National Commission for Minorities Act was enacted in 1992, the Minorities Commission became a statutory body and was renamed as National Commission for Minorities.
National Commission for Minorities Act 1992
Under the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992 the government formed the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) which consist of Chairperson, a Vice-Chairperson and five Members.
The five Members including the Chairperson shall be from amongst the minority communities.
Definition of minority
The act defines a minority as “a community notified as such by the Central government.”
Government of India has declared six religions namely, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhist, Parsis and Jain (included in 2014) as religious minorities in India.
Together they constitute 20.22 per cent of India’s population.
Constitutional provisions for minorities
Constitutional provisions related to minorities can be seen in Fundamental Rights (FR), Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP), and Fundamental Duties (FD).
- ARTICLE 14: people’s right to ‘equality before the law’ and ‘equal protection of the laws’
- ARTICLE 15: prohibition of discrimination against citizens on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth
- ARTICLE 16: citizens’ right to ‘equality of opportunity’ in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State – and prohibition in this regard of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth;
- ARTICLE 25: people’s freedom of conscience and right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion – subject to public order, morality and other Fundamental Rights;
- ARTICLE 26: the right of ‘every religious denomination or any section thereof – subject to public order, morality and health – to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes, ‘manage its own affairs in matters of religion’, and own and acquire movable immovable property and administer it ‘in accordance with law’
- ARTICLE 27: the prohibition against compelling any person to pay taxes for promotion of any particular religion’
- ARTICLE 28: people’s ‘freedom as to attendance at religious instruction or religious worship in educational institutions’ wholly maintained, recognized or aided by the State.
Directive Principles of State Policy
DPSPs under Part IV includes the following provisions having significant implications for the Minorities: –
- the obligation of the State ‘to endeavour to eliminate inequalities in status, facilities and opportunities’ amongst individuals and groups of people residing in different areas or engaged in different vocations; Article 38 (2)
- the obligation of State ‘to promote with special care’ the educational and economic interests of ‘the weaker sections of the people’ [Article 46]
- citizens’ duty to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India ‘transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities; and
- citizens’ duty to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture.’
Role of NCM
- The commission monitors the working of the safeguards provided in the Constitution and in laws enacted by Parliament and the State Legislatures.
- It also makes recommendations for the effective implementation of safeguards for the protection of the interests of minorities by the Central Government or the State Governments.
- Evaluation of the progress of the development of minorities under the Union and States.
- Looking into specific complaints regarding deprivation of rights and safeguards of minorities and taking up such matters with the appropriate authorities.
- Undertaking research and study into the problems arising out of any discrimination against minorities and recommending measures for their removal.
- Making special reports to the central government or any matter pertaining to minorities particularly the difficulties faced by them.
- Any other matter which may be referred to it by the Central Government.
- To mark the adoption of the “Declaration on the Rights of Persons belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities” by the United Nations in 1992, it observes the Minorities Rights Day every year on 18th December.
Instances where NCM played a role
The 2011 Bharatpur communal riots were investigated by the Commission. In 2012, a team was sent to Assam to investigate the Bodo-Muslim clashes, and their findings were submitted to the government.
NCM is an important institution for our country because it allows for venting of minorities’ grievances. However, it suffers from various issues.
National Commission for Minorities: Why in news?
Jan 2021: The 7-member National Commission for Minorities (NCM) is down to just one member after the retirement of its vice-chairperson in October and the non-filling of 5 other seats since May 2020.
Issues faced by the NCM
In a book titled Minorities Commission 1978-2015: Minor Role in Major Affairs authored by former NCM chairman Tahir Mahmood, NCM is referred to as a toothless tiger, white elephant, Sarkari puppet. It has been referred to as “National Commission for Tokenism” too.
- No constitutional status: NCM does not have a constitutional status (it is a statutory body) which if bestowed upon it would give NCM autonomy and clout it needs to carry out its functions effectively.
- Absence of any constitutional power: It lacks the constitutional power to conduct independent enquiries or investigations in cases of the transgression of minorities’ rights, and especially in cases of communal violence, render the Commission legally incapacitated to fulfil its duty. This limitation has also been mentioned in a recommendation in the Commission’s 2007-08, 2008-09, and 2010-11 annual reports of the Commission.
- Toothless tiger: It hasn’t been provided with any “teeth” in terms of their legal capacity to carry out their Constitutional mandate. The decision of the Commission can be overturned by the district and high courts.
- No reports tabled: Section 13 of the NCM Act mandates that the annual report, “together with the memorandum of action taken on the recommendations contained therein’’, as well as the reasons for non-acceptance of the recommendations be tabled before Parliament annually. Sources said these reports have not been tabled in Parliament since 2010. Further, its recommendations are routinely rejected or simply filed away and forgotten.
- Partisan representation: There has been a shift in the kind of members appointed to the body. While past appointments included former chief justices, civil servants, academicians etc, the recent appointees were mostly “social activists” with links to the ruling party.
- Capacity related challenges: These include human resource deficiency as is the case now. The Commission is unable to effectively fulfil its mandate when the key positions of Commission members remain vacant. For example, the Commission mandated to conduct hearing is unable to process the numerous cases it receives.
- Underutilization of technology: there is no real-time communication of schedules and appointments for hearings with the complainants which results in wastage of time and money.
- Only a few State minority commissions: A major recommendation of the Annual Conference of State Minorities Commissions (2008) was “that the State Governments should also set up State Minorities Commissions on similar lines (as that of the NCM).” However, only 16 states have set up such commissions. These too remain understaffed and mostly dysfunctional due to lack of capacity in human resource as well as in the absence of a regular monitoring mechanism of the State Commissions’ workings.
- Pressure on NCM: with ineffective State Finance Commissions, the pressure is borne by the NCM which further reduced its efficiency.
- Inadequate powers to State Minority Commissions: State Minority Commissions are not given adequate powers to implement, monitor, and review developmental programs and welfare schemes under the Prime Minister’s 15 Point Program for Minorities.
- Lack of research: Only a small proportion of the allocated budget of the Commission is spent in research activities even when conducting “studies, research and analysis on the issues relating to the socio-economic and educational development of minorities” is among the primary mandates of NCM.
Measures to make NCM more effective
- To reduce pendency of cases at the organizational level, the Commission should set certain baseline targets related to the pendency rates.
- At regular intervals, conducting a staffing needs assessment may be a useful solution to address the problem of vacant positions at the leadership level.
- NCM should develop a Stakeholder Satisfaction Survey for parties to anonymously provide feedback regarding how their appeal was processed, irrespective of the decision made.
- Technological upgrades including investment in more sophisticated information management systems could help reduce the pendency rates of cases in the Commission such as e-hearing.
- The strengthening of the State Commissions and setting up new state-level commissions, where these do not yet exist, can help in reducing the pendency rates and increasing hearings’ effectiveness of the Commission.
- NCM could fulfil its duties assigned in its mandate if the greater legal and constitutional authority is extended to the Commission. The Commission could be more effective if it has greater authority to conduct independent enquiries in cases of the transgression of rights of the minorities
To hold true to our commitment to the idea of unity in diversity, and ensure compliance to the constitutional articles viz, Article 15 and 16, Article 25 (1), 26 and 28, Article 29, Article 30, there is a need to give teeth to this organisation.
As we witness the rise of populist-majoritarian movements which tend to render minority rights ignored and suppressed, the National Minorities Commission (NCM) as an institution has the potential to serve as the protector and a beacon of minority rights in India.