Government Withdraws Appeal in Aligarh Muslim University Case

New Delhi: On Monday, April 4, attorney general Mukul Rohatgi informed the Supreme Court that the Narendra Modi-led government had decided to withdraw the appeal filed by the erstwhile UPA government against an Allahabad high court judgment rejecting minority status to Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).

The Modi government, which had been pursuing the appeal it inherited, has decided to withdraw the appeal on the grounds that as AMU is a central university funded by parliament it cannot be given minority status.

The AG initially gave this information before a bench of Chief Justice T.S. Thakur and Justice Uday Lalit, who were hearing an appeal relating to the appointment of Lt. Gen Zameer Uddin Shah as the AMU vice chancellor. Later in the afternoon, he reiterated the stand before a three-judge bench comprising Justices J.S. Khehar, Madan B. Lokur and C. Nagappan hearing the appeals relating to minority status for AMU.

Tracing the history of the appeals, the AG said AMU was set up as a central university under a 1920 legislation. In 1967, a constitution bench in the Azeez Basha case had held that AMU cannot be granted minority status. In 1981, Indira Gandhi, who was prime minister at the time, brought an amendment in the AMU Act restoring the university’s  minority status.  But this was struck down by the Allahabad high court in the light of the Constitution bench judgment in Azeez Basha.

Though the UPA government and AMU filed appeals against this verdict, the AG said the current government has decided to withdraw its appeal and it will be left to AMU to pursue the matter. The AG said that since AMU was set up by a parliamentary enactment, granting minority status will be contrary to Article 15 of the constitution, which prohibits discrimination by the state on the grounds of religion.

On March 5, Shah had met Modi and there was speculation that the Centre would take a call on filing an affidavit in the AMU case after the meeting.

Clarifying the Centre’s stand, the AG told the court that although he had finalised the affidavit, it could not be filed and he would file it shortly.

The human resources development ministry had in 2005 allowed AMU to reserve 50% of its seats at all levels for Muslims. This order is currently in abeyance since the matter is pending before the apex court. In the affidavit to be filed presently, the Centre will say conferring minority status to AMU is unconstitutional and illegal as the university is discriminating against scheduled castes and tribes and other backward classes by using its minority status.

Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for the petitioner who had challenged the amended Act in the Allahabad high court, said the matter should go to a seven-judge bench. Endorsing this submission, the AG said the appeals should be referred to a seven-judge bench if the court were to review the decision in the Azeez Basha case. However, he said it will be left to the court to take a call during the hearing of the appeals.