The Supreme Court today granted three months' time to the Centre saying it was the last opportunity for it to discuss with the Jammu and Kashmir government a host of issues including whether the majority Muslims community in the state could be regarded as a minority to avail benefits under the category.
A bench of Chief Justice J S Khehar and Justices A K Goel and D Y Chandrachud considered the submission of the central government that it has been holding consultations with the state government and eight weeks' more time be given for apprising the court about its stand on the matter.
Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said the government has been holding discussions "at all levels".
The court, which was critical of the stand taken by the J-K government in its recent affidavit, however, said the state government has not taken part in all processes initiated by the Centre due to prevailing situation in the Valley.
The bench then noted that the matter was "at an advanced stage" and granted three months' time as the last opportunity to the Centre to apprise it about the outcome of the consultations.
Earlier, the court had issued notice to the Centre, the state government and the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) on the plea filed by Jammu-based advocate Ankur Sharma who alleged that benefits accruing to the minorities were being taken away by the 68 per cent-strong Muslim community in J-K.
The court had asked the Centre and the state government to "sit together" and find a solution to "contentious" issues including whether the Muslims in the state could be regarded as a minority and avail benefits under the category.
The state government had then said that it was willing to sit and try to find a solution to the issue.
The plea has alleged that the rights of religious and linguistic 'minorities' in the state were being "siphoned off illegally and arbitrarily" due to extension of benefits to "unqualified sections" of the population.
Sharma alleged the provisions of the National Commission for Minorities Act were not applicable to Jammu and Kashmir due to a caveat put by Article 370 of the Constitution.
"Moreover, crores of rupees are being given to the members of the majority community under various schemes meant for linguistic and religious minorities," he said.
The state government was violating Article 29 (protection of interests of minorities) and Article 30 (right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions) under the Constitution, he said.
It has been settled that the identification of the minority communities has to be decided as per the population data of the state in question, Sharma said.
The apex court, however, had earlier refused to restrain the authorities from disbursing benefits to any community in the state.
The PIL has also sought the setting up of a state minority commission for identification of minorities.
"The population of Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir according to the 2011 Census is 68.31 per cent. Communities which are eligible to be notified as minorities, are not awarded their due share of scholarship owing to their non-identification as minorities, thereby jeopardising their constitutionally guaranteed rights enshrined under Part III of the Constitution of India," it has said.
This clearly reflected the unfairness and discrimination of the state government towards other communities in Jammu and Kashmir which were eligible to be notified as minorities," the petition has alleged.
It has also sought a direction for extension of National Commission for Minorities (NCM) Act, 1992 to Jammu and Kashmir and amendments in it so that benefits available to minorities of other states could also be given to the minorities in J&K.
It has pleaded that a committee of experts functioning under the direct supervision of the apex court be appointed and a comprehensive report be submitted identifying communities in the state which qualified as religious and linguistic minorities.
The petition has also demanded that a special investigation team (SIT), headed by a retired high court judge working under direct supervision of the top court, be constituted for investigating the illegal and arbitrary disbursement of minority benefits under the prime minister's 15-point programme to various communities.
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