Minority panel may get constitutional status in budget session

February 20th, 2008 - 12:12 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan SinghRajeev Ranjan Roy
New Delhi, Feb 18 (IANS) The government is gearing up to confer constitutional status on the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) during parliament’s budget session beginning Feb 25. The bill granting constitutional status to the panel is being given final touches, sources in the ministry for minority affairs and the NCM said.

Constitutional status would empower the NCM to pass verdicts binding on the organisations and agencies, while a statutory standing gives it the right to just make recommendations.

“The new draft of the bill, seeking an amendment in the constitution, is at an advanced stage,” an official said. If passed by parliament, the bill would elevate the NCM from a statutory body to a constitutional one, on par with the National Commissions for the Scheduled Castes and Tribes.

This has been a long pending demand of the minorities, who account for over 18 percent of the country’s billion plus population.

“The bill would certainly be through once the government introduces it in parliament. We urge the government to expedite the process of giving constitutional status to the commission,” Kamal Farooqui, a senior member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, told IANS.

The National Commission for Minorities (Repeal) Bill, 2004 and the constitution 103rd Amendment Bill, 2004 were first tabled in parliament in December 2004 with an aim to grant constitutional status to the minority panel. But the bill subsequently lapsed.

“We hope the bill in the new form would be tabled and passed by parliament during the budget session. The wait would no longer be endless,” NCM chairperson Mohammad Shafi Qureshi told IANS.

“Unlike the national commission for SCs and STs, the NCM does not have power to investigate all matters related to the minorities nor can it inquire into any specific complaints,” Qureshi said.

“The commission should have the powers to inquire suo motu or on a representation by a member of the minority community, and to utilise the services of any officer or investigation agency of the central or state governments.”

Qureshi added that the commission had made a detailed representation in writing to the parliamentary standing committee looking into the earlier bill.

“The coming bill, hopefully, would incorporate our suggestions, which make the commission effective in more ways,” he said.

The commission was transformed into a statutory body with the enactment of the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992.

Since the common minimum programme (CMP) of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government promises to “examine the question of providing constitutional status to the commission”, the demands have poured in from different quarters from time to time.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, himself from the minority Sikh community, had also reiterated the need to give constitutional status to the panel in an address to the annual conference of state minorities commissions Nov 2, 2006.

Home Minister Shivraj Patil echoed the view Jan 16 this year at the conference of the state minorities commissions here.

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