SC junks plea against commission examining claims of SC status to converted Dalits

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to entertain a plea challenging the Centre’s decision to set up a commission to examine Schedule Caste status for converted Dalits.

A bench headed by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul asked the petitioner’s counsel: “Who are you?” as it added that a hearing in the matter is already underway.

Counsel argued that the commission should not have been set up when the apex court is already hearing the matter.

The bench, also comprising Justice A.S. Oka, asked if the petitioner is challenging the constitution of the commission, and further queried, which rule or which law allows the petitioner to do that?

Counsel contended that the court should proceed further and the commission should not come in the way. However, the bench told the counsel that such a petition, which seeks quashing of the appointment and functioning of the commission, cannot be entertained under Article 32 of the Constitution.

Declining to entertain the plea, the bench said it has no relevant ground to quash the appointment of the commission. The top court order came on a plea filed by Pratap Baburao Pandit.

In October last year, the Central government appointed a Commission of Inquiry under chairmanship of former Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan to examine claims to grant Scheduled Caste status to the Dalits, who converted to other religions.

The commission also comprises retired IAS officer Dr Ravinder Kumar Jain and Prof Sushma Yadav (member, UGC), as members. The commission will examine the matter of Scheduled Caste (SC) status to new persons, who claim to historically have belonged to the Scheduled Castes, but have converted to religion other than those mentioned in the presidential orders issued from time to time under Article 341 of the Constitution. The presidential orders granted SC status to only those who followed Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism. The commission will examine the implications on the existing Scheduled Castes, of adding such new persons as part of the existing list of Scheduled Castes.

In November last year, the Central government, in its written response, had told the Supreme Court that plea seeking Scheduled Caste status to Dalits, who converted to Christianity and Islam, should not be allowed, since they did not suffer from untouchability.

On August 30, the apex court had asked the Centre to clarify its stand in the matter on the petitions filed by the ‘National Council of Dalit Christians’ and others. The Central government, in a written response, said “The Constitution (Scheduled Caste) Order, 1950 was based on historical data which clearly established that no such backwardness or oppression was ever faced by members of Christian or Islamic Society.”

The government further added that one of the reasons for which people from Scheduled Castes are converting to religions like Islam or Christianity, is to come out of the oppressive system of untouchability, a social stigma, which is not prevalent in either in Christianity or Islam.

The Centre’s response came on a batch of petitions seeking a direction to extend the benefit of reservation to Dalits converts to Christianity or Islam.

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