Vacancies unfilled, minorities panel has only one member

Written by Esha Roy
| New Delhi |

November 23, 2020 2:11:45 am

This isn’t the first time that vacancies haven’t been filled in the NCM — in 2017, all seven posts remained empty for over two months.

THE SEVEN-MEMBER National Commission for Minorities (NCM) is down to just one member. While five posts were lying vacant since May, the vice-chairperson, Manjit Singh Rai, retired on October 25.

The NCM is mandated to have seven members, including a chairperson and vice-chairperson, with a member each from the Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, Parsi and Jain communities.

“There has been some delay in filling the vacancies because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but the process is underway,’’ said Union Minister for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. The ministry recommends the names to the Prime Minister’s Office.

This isn’t the first time that vacancies haven’t been filled in the NCM — in 2017, all seven posts remained empty for over two months.

The NDA government faced criticism for not filling vacancies in the commissions for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, backward classes and minorities. The same year, the Delhi High Court sought the Centre’s response on a plea against the government’s “inaction” in clearing appointments to the NCM.

“It is true that the Commission, even with all its members, is not always effective. But it is nevertheless a representation for minorities and an important instrumentality of the government in a democracy that gives them agency, and when the NCM lies vacant, they feel excluded. The NCM is in charge of ensuring that the Prime Minister’s 15-point programme is implemented and the programmes for minority communities are actually functioning,’’ said Wajahat Habibullah, who was the NCM chairperson in 2011-2014.

“In the past, the Commission has investigated matters of communal conflict and riots. I have visited sites of such conflict to investigate. The 2011 Bharatpur communal riots were investigated by the Commission. In 2012, a team was sent to Assam to investigate the Bodo-Muslim clashes, and their findings were submitted to the government. Yet now, there is clear targeting of a particular minority in Uttar Pradesh for instance, but the Commission hasn’t said a word about it so far, which is shocking,’’ said Habibullah.

“In 2004, the standing committee on social justice and empowerment, headed by Sumitra Mahajan, had made specific recommendations to strengthen the NCM. One of the issues was the insufficient investigative powers that the NCM has… But these recommendations were never implemented by the then UPA government. Whichever government is in power, the reports tabled by the minority commission in Parliament are never really taken up or debated,’’ said former Vice President Hamid Ansari, who was also NCM chairperson.

Section 13 of the NCM Act mandates that the annual report, “together with the memorandum of action taken on the recommendations contained therein’’, as well as the reasons for non-acceptance of the recommendations, if any, be tabled before Parliament annually. Sources said these reports have not been tabled in Parliament since 2010.

“Even when I took over in 2006, these reports were no longer being tabled. And I had to take up the matter with the minorities minister and revive the practice. It is not accidental that the government is reluctant to scrutinise,’’ said Ansari, who investigated the Nandigram incident in West Bengal during his tenure.

“The Commission is meant to act on complaints that it receives. Most of the complaints that we receive are regarding service matters, where an individual may feel that he has been terminated or passed over for promotion because of his religion. We also get complaints of property disputes,’’ said B Anand, NCM Secretary.

Former NCM members said there has been a shift in the kind of members appointed to the body. While past appointments included former chief justices, civil servants, academicians etc, the recent appointees were mostly “social activists” with links to the BJP, they said.

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