Only 1 of 7 Seats Is Filled in India’s National Minorities Commission
The National Commission for Minorities (NCM), which is statutorily required to have seven members, has been operating with only one member since November 2020.
Set up by the government in 1992 under the National Commission for Minorities Act to protect the rights of minorities in India, the NCM is required to have seven members: one chairperson, one vice-chairperson, and five members. These five members, alongside the chairperson, must represent each of the six notified minority groups, i.e., Buddhists, Jains, Christians, Muslims, Parsis, and Sikhs, according to the law.
At present, not only is the NCM lacking representation from each one of the minorities, but it is also functioning without a chairperson. The erstwhile chairperson’s tenure ended in May 2020. While the vice-chairperson officiated as chairperson for a few months, his tenure also ended in November 2020.
Since then, “I have been the lone member running the commission since 25 November,” Atif Rasheed, who has been serving as the vice-chairperson and lone-member of the NCM, told The Print, adding, however, that “whether there is one member or six, the commission is continuing its work.”
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But experts don’t agree that the NCM’s functioning has not been affected by more than 80% of its vacancies still waiting to be filled. “Minorities are not just Muslims. Each group needs to have a member from their community. Because they build understanding of the community to actually ensure justice is done, whether it’s government policy or a burial ground or a land for worship or even dispute resolution. This may not be possible if you don’t have members from each community,” Wajahat Habibullah, who was the chairperson of the NCM from 2011 to 2014, said.
In fact, the Delhi High Court had questioned the central government on the absence of adequate representation of minorities on the NCM last month — after an individual belonging to the Buddhist community argued that the government was deliberately not filling the vacant posts “on account of the vested interest best known to them [sic].” The central government has been directed to file a status report before the court, in response to the petition, by March 8.
The government is citing the pandemic as the reason for this delay. “Most vacancies came during the Covid19 pandemic when the government was focused on ensuring health and well-being of the people… As far as the commission is concerned, its working has not been paralyzed in any way,” Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, the Minister for Minority Affairs said.
However, he has assured that the process of filling up the vacant seats is now underway.