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What all Government Aids are provided to Religious Minorities in India?

6 min read

By Fen Mathew

Introduction

India with the population just above 1.2 billion is the second most populous country in the world just after China and it has one of the most religiously diverse population. Hinduism is the most common religion with approx. 80% of the population.

Islam is the second major religion in India with 13% and followed by other religions like Christians (2.3%), Sikhs (1.9%), Buddhists (0.8%) and Jains (0.4%)[1]. All these religions have been existence in India since the time of its independence in August 1947 with episodes of communal clashes.

The Preamble to the Constitution declares India as a secular country with no official religion and no priority to any specific religion but this was not the scenario till 1975.

The term secular was added to the preamble in 42nd Amendment in 1976 which gave right to every citizen to practice the religion they wanted, and the state could not force any religion as the official one.

Since then, every religious group has been given equal opportunities to establish itself and the Government had implemented various laws and schemes for the protection and facilitation of all religions equally.

In a country like India with maximum Hindu population, other religions like Islam, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis, Buddhists and Jains are declared as religious minorities. The Indian Constitution does not define the word ‘minorities’ even though there are provisions laid down with the respect to fundamental rights of minorities.

The Supreme Court in TMA Pai Foundation & ORs. Vs. State of Karnataka & Ors[2] held that a minority, whether linguistic or religious, it can be determined with reference to a state and not by taking into consideration the population of the whole country.

This article deals with the Government aids provided to religious minorities in India.

What does the Indian Constitution say about Religious Minorities?

  • Article 25 of the Constitution lays down that all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate any religion of their choice.
  • Article 26 of the Constitution says that every religious group will have the right to
    • to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes;
    • to manage its own affaiRs. in matteRs. of religion;
    • to own and acquire movable and immovable property; and
    • to administer such property in accordance with law.

Without any unreasonable discrimination from the state. These 2 articles were passed in the favour of protection of all the religions specially the minorities and also to establish the fact that India is a secular country.

  • Article 28 says that no person shall be forced to follow any religious instruction or any religious worship in any educational institution that is aided by the state government.
  • Article 29 talks about Protection of interests of minorities. Its clause (1) says that any citizen residing in territory of India has the right to have a distinct language, script or culture of its own and to preserve it in the way they want. Clause (2) says that no citizen shall be denied admission to any educational institution on the grounds of language, script or culture which is aided by the state.
  • Article 30 lays down one of the most important rights of the minorities and it gives them right to establish and administer educational institutional of their own choice. Clause (2) of the article says that the Government while providing aid to these institutions, should not discriminate among the minorities on the ground of religion or language.

Ravneet Kaur Vs. Christian Medical College[3], the Court held that a private institution not aided by the Government cannot discriminate against a person for admission on grounds of religion.

In the case of Managing Board of the Milli Takimi Mission Bihar & Ors. Vs. State of Bihar & Ors[4]., the Supreme Court held that establishing a minority institution is a fundamental right and refusal to give affiliation or recognition by statutory authority without reasonable grounds will be infringement of fundamental right enshrined under Article 30 of the constitution.

What are the various Government aids provided for pilgrimage?

  • The Haj Subsidy

The haj subsidy was a pre-colonial idea of giving subsidy to Muslim pilgrims who travelled to Mecca and Madina. In 1959, the then Indian Government repealed and replaced 1932 Act, enacting Haj Committee Act establishing a committee in Bombay to assist Muslim pilgrims travelling to Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Jordan.

The flights were manged by Air India, the Government managed airlines and Saudia, the airlines of Saudi Arabia.

In 2012, the Supreme Court directed that the amount of Haj subsidy be reduced progressively ended by 2022 as the court found that the subsidy for Haj travel was funded substantially by the Indian Government and not only it was unconstitutional, it was also against the teachings of Quran.

Following the order, the BJP Government phased out the subsidy in 2018 and aimed to invest the amount in the education of Muslim girls.

  • Hindu Subsidies

The most prominent examples of Government aiding Hindu religious activities are the four Kumbh Melas which are heavily funded with the Government spending over a thousand crores annually. In 2016, the Ujjain Kumbh received 100 crores from the central Government added to state government’s allocated Rs. 3,400 crore[5].

Yogi Adityanath led Government in Uttar Pradesh announced to spend around Rs. 2500 crore on the preparations of Ardh Kumbh mela that was held in 2019[6].

The Manasarovar Yatra is organised under a bilateral agreement between India and China and the Government almost spends 6000 crores towards boarding and accommodation of each pilgrim and also includes security and health facilities for the pilgrims[7].

The stoppage of Haj subsidy by the Government on one side and expenditure by state and central governments on Hindu festivals has several times led to conflicts and criticism calling the Government practices as unconstitutional and against the secularity of the country.

Are all these aids exempted to Tax?

Income Tax Act, 1961 lays down provisions that exempt charitable and religious trusts from paying taxes. Section 11 provides exemption for income derived from property held under trust held for religious purposes to the extent that such income is applied for religious purposes in India.

Section 12 exempts income from voluntary contributions made to trust which is established for religious purposes conditionally. Section 10(23C) also exempts the income of some educational institutions.

What are the different Government schemes to aid education in minorities?

From past years, the Government has been funding madrasas Scheme for Providing Quality Education in Madrasas (SPQEM) to provide better education the children in the fields of Science, Mathematics, Social Studies and Hindi and English languages. According to NIEPA study, so far 21000 madrasas have been benefitted from around Rs. 1,138 crore.

In 2017-18, the Central Government allocated 120 crores under the scheme and Rs108 crores were spent. In 2018 –19, the Government came up with the plan to distribute the contribution between centre and state to 60:40 but it led to various procedural delays and that year only Rs. 18.25 crore was actually spent.

The Government has planned to increase the funding to almost 80% in 2020-21 with the budget allocation being hiked to Rs. 220 crores.[8]

Conclusion

With Government spending crores on religious events and in funding of minority religious institutions, criticisms can still be seen as the citizens of a different community or the majority look down the Government for helping minorities and sate as unconstitutional and against the secularity of the country.

The Government has done away with many age-old practices of funding and is trying to focus on the development of the nation as a whole but there are still various schemes and programs of the Government that tend to discriminate amongst the citizens and hence creating communal tensions among them.

For India to be a secular country not in books but in practicality, the Government will have to focus on overall development of an area or state rather than focusing on one community or its political agendas.

  1. Diva Rai, “Minorities in India: rights and legal status”, available at: blog.ipleaders.in (Last visited 17 June, 2021)

  2. TMA Pai Foundation & ORs. Vs. State of Karnataka & ORs. 2002 8 SCC 481
  3. Ravneet Kaur Vs. Christian Medical College AIR 1998 P H 1
  4. Managing Board of the Milli Takimi Mission Bihar & Ors. Vs. State of Bihar & ORs. 1984 (4) SCC 500
  5. Rama Dwivedi, “After Haj Subsidy Scrapped, Spotlight on State-Funded Hindu Pilgrimages, Including Rs. 2,500 Crore by UP Govt for Ardh Kumbh”, available at: outlookindia.com. (Last visited 17 June, 2021)

  6. Rama Dwivedi, “After Haj Subsidy Scrapped, Spotlight on State-Funded Hindu Pilgrimages, Including Rs. 2,500 Crore by UP Govt for Ardh Kumbh”, available at: outlookindia.com. (Last visited 17 June, 2021)

  7. Rama Dwivedi, “After Haj Subsidy Scrapped, Spotlight on State-Funded Hindu Pilgrimages, Including Rs. 2,500 Crore by UP Govt for Ardh Kumbh”, available at: outlookindia.com. (Last visited 17 June, 2021)

  8. Priscilla Jebaraj, “Centre intends to hike allocations for madrasas more than 80% next year”, available at: thehindu.com (Last visited 17 June, 2021)