Larger bench may take up Punjab Sikhs’ minority status case

Thursday, November 18, 2010

NEW DELHI - The Supreme Court Thursday indicated that it may refer to the constitution bench the question whether Sikhs in Punjab enjoy minority status in respect of setting up educational institutions and availing related benefits.

The apex court bench of Justice B. Sudershan Reddy and Justice S.S. Nijjar said this while hearing the petitions by the Punjab government and the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC).

The state government has challenged a Punjab and Haryana High Court order quashing its notification granting minority status to institutions run by the SGPC.

The high court’s Dec 17, 2007 order talked about the definition of “Sikh” under the Sikh Gurdwaras Act, 1925 and its relation with constitutional provisions that protect the rights of minorities to set up their own educational institutions.

The high court held that there was no material to substantiate that Sikhs were non-dominant group in Punjab apprehending deprivation of their rights at the hands of “dominant” groups that may come to power.

The high court judgment quashed various notifications issued by the Punjab government granting minority status to educational institutions run by the SGPC.

The apex court was told that the high court had wrongly applied the test of “dominant” and “non-dominant” group of community in a state.

When a counsel informed the court that a similar case was referred to the constitution bench, the judges asked him to give details so that the Punjab matter could also be referred to a similar bench.

A constitutional bench is a bench of five or more judges of the apex court constituted by the chief justice of India to hear and decide a case involving a substantial question of law.

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