The UPA government's significant decision to set up an Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) just days ahead of the Election Commission's expected announcement of schedule for general elections has hardly enthused the minorities who described it a step too late and full of technical faults.
Union Cabinet on Thursday approved setting up of an Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC), a statutory body to check discrimination of minority community in jobs, education, housing and disbursement of other amenities. It was one of important recommendations of Justice Rajinder Sachar Committee, submitted to the government in 2006 during UPA-I.
An expert group constituted by the government in 2008 to recommend the structure, scope and functions had asked to empower the Commission through a legislative framework. But the government has instead taken the executive route to avoid tabling a Bill in view of repeated adjournments in the parliament.
Muslim leaders fear that in the absence of a legislative framework, the government decision at the fag end of its tenure will hardly stand to judicial scrutiny. "This is just an eyewash to seek Muslim votes. It will hardly help and will be challenged in the court of law," said Dr Zafrul Islam Khan, president All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), an umbrella body of social, cultural and political Muslim bodies. Khan also cautioned Congress that such shenanigans and hollow steps would not fetch them Muslim votes. "They slept over it for over past 8 years and suddenly they woke up to show , they care for us," he told dna.
After gathering dust in the corridors of power, the government took out this proposal after prodding by minority affairs minister K Rahman Khan. A draft note was circulated within the government, which was redrafted and modified after receiving objections and reservations from various ministries particularly the law and social justice. The minister said the Commission will take up complaints against landlords/housing societies and also private sector, who refuse to give houses on rent or jobs on account of religious grounds.
"We have seen advertisements in newspapers where it is mentioned that a particular society does not encourage Muslims. That's illegal and a statutory body like this can take care of such complaints," said an an official in the Minority Affairs ministry.
A Group of Ministers, chaired by A K Antony, had earlier approved the draft, after consulting ministries and stake holders about the location and powers of the panel. In the original draft, the Commission was meant to take up complaints of discrimination from all weaker sections, including SCs/STs. But it was pointed out that this clause will clash with the powers enshrined to other national commissions. The GoM had later mandated that EOC will deal exclusively with minorities.
The Sachar Committee that studied the socio-economic condition of the minorities in India had noted that though Muslims constituted 18.5 per cent of the population, their representation in bureaucracy was just about 2.5 per cent. It was also revealed that Muslims were facing housing apartheid in metro cities, particularly in Delhi and Mumbai.
Such anti-discriminatory commissions exist in countries like the US, South Africa, Canada , the UK and its province of Northern Ireland. But they largely counter institutional bias on the basis of age, gender, caste, ethnicity, linguistic identity or sexual orientation.(ends)