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Aligarh Muslim University: A Closer Look At The Legal Battle Over Minority Status


New Delhi: The Centre on Tuesday (January 9) argued before the Supreme Court that Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) is not a minority institution as it has a “national character”, in a new hearing of a case that goes back to 75 years ago. The case involves two legal questions: whether an educational institution can get minority status under Article 30 of the Indian Constitution, and whether a central university created by a parliamentary law can be called a minority institution. The Supreme Court (SC) has recently observed that the minority status of an educational institution is not affected by the fact that its administration is governed by a statute.

A seven-judge bench is hearing the case of AMU to decide whether the university is a minority institution. The bench consists of Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, Justices Sanjiv Khanna, Surya Kant, JB Pardiwala, Dipankar Datta, Manoj Misra and Satish Chandra Sharma. In 1967, the Supreme Court held that AMU was not a minority institution, and now the Government of India has challenged the university’s minority status in the Apex court.

“Aligarh Muslim University is not and cannot be a university of any specific religion or religious group, as any university declared by the Constitution of India to be of national importance cannot be, by definition, a minority institution,” said Solicitor General Tushar Mehta in his written submissions to the Supreme Court of India. According to a PTI report, the Solicitor General of India contended in court that the university has been an institution of national importance.

Supreme Court’s Views In Ongoing AMU Case

The Supreme Court, in the ongoing AMU case, emphasises that an institution does not lose its minority status by being regulated by a statute. Article 30 of the Constitution is explained to not require the minority community to have exclusive control over the administration for retaining minority status. The court recognises that a minority institution can have a secular administration and is not limited to offering only religious courses. It can admit students from various communities.

A key question before the Constitution Bench is whether an institution can be considered a minority educational institution because it was “established by a person(s) belonging to a religious or linguistic minority. The minority character of an educational institution is not compromised by the presence of some office-bearers from the majority community in some administrative wings.

Background Of Aligarh Muslim University

AMU is regarded as a minority educational institution in India, founded in 1875 by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan as the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College, later becoming Aligarh Muslim University in 1920. The university aimed to improve the education of Muslims in India.

In August 1920, the AMU Act was passed, declaring the institution a minority institution. Speaking on the AMU Bill in the Central Legislative Council, the then education member, Sir Mohammed Shafi, expressed the government’s intention to provide significant financial support to the proposed university.

However, the minority status of the university was weakened in 1951 and 1965 when the central government passed amendments, changing the governing structure and giving powers to the President of India to nominate members. In 1981, a law was passed to restore the minority status. In 2005, the Allahabad High Court ruled against the minority status, leading to a Supreme Court referral in 2019 to a seven-judge bench.


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