Aligarh Muslim University cannot be a minority institution given its “national character”, the Centre on Tuesday told the Supreme Court, which began hearing the hugely disputed question of the minority status of AMU.
It said AMU is not and cannot be a university of any particular religion or religious denomination as any university which has been declared an institution of national importance cannot be a minority institution.
In his written submissions filed before the apex court, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the university has always been an institution of national importance, even in the pre-independence era. The university was founded in 1875.
“Therefore, as per the submission of the Union of India, the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) is an institution of a national character. A survey of the documents surrounding the establishment of the Aligarh Muslim University and even the then existing legislative position enunciates that the AMU was always an institution having a national character,” the document said.
While referring to debates in the Constituent Assembly, it said, it is clear that a university which was and is clearly an institution of national importance, has to be a non-minority university.
“It is submitted that owing to the obviously secular ethos and nature of the nation and the Constitution, considering the fact that AMU is an institution of educational ‘national character’ it cannot be considered to be a minority institution irrespective of the question whether it was established and administered by the minority at the time of inception or not,” Mehta said.
The top law officer said AMU is not a university dominantly functioning as a Muslim university as it is not established and administered by the minority.
“Aligarh Muslim University is not and cannot be a University of any particular religion or religious denomination as any University which is declared by the Constitution of India to be of national importance should, by definition, cannot be a minority institution,” Mehta said in his written submissions.
On the impact of declaring AMU as a “minority institution”, he said a minority educational institution is not required to implement the reservation policy under section 3 of the Central Educational Institution (Reservation in Admission) Act, 2006 (as amended in 2012).
“Despite being an institution of national importance with other institutes of national importance, Aligarh Muslim University would have a separate admission procedure,” the document said.
Mehta said the resultant effect of the said exemption would be “drastic” as AMU is an extremely old and large institute with vast properties and an enormous amount of students studying in various courses.
“It is submitted that a large national institute like Aligarh Muslim University ought to maintain its secular origins and serve the larger interest of the nation first,” he said.
Mehta said AMU is ranked ninth among universities and autonomous institutions in India by the Ministry of Education’s National Institutional Ranking Framework-2023, and the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), an autonomous body of the University Grants Commission, has graded the varsity at ‘A+’.
“The case of Aligarh Muslim University and Banaras Hindu University is sui generis (unique) case since the framers of the Constitution chose to place these two Universities in List I as a part of Entry 63, though the subject of education is otherwise in the State List (at the time of independence). This exhibits the national character of the University and its stand,” it said.
Referring to the AMU Act, the solicitor general said, throughout the process of amendments to the law, the understanding of the character of AMU being national and non-minority has been clear.
“Therefore, the mere omission of the word ‘establish’ from the preamble and addition of ‘established by the Muslims of India’ in definition of University section 2(l) of the Aligarh Muslim (University) Act cannot change the historical fact that the Aligarh Muslim University was established by efforts of a large number of people including the State which had no religion and by an Act of the Indian Legislative Council, which did not provide for a predominant minority character to the University,” he said.
The issue of AMU’s minority status has been caught in a legal maze for the last several decades.
A five-judge constitution bench had in the S Azeez Basha versus Union of India case in 1967 held that since the Aligarh Muslim University was a central university, it cannot be considered a minority institution.
However, the fabled institution established in 1875 got back its minority status when Parliament passed the AMU (Amendment) Act in 1981.
In January 2006, the Allahabad High Court struck down the provision of the 1981 law by which the university was accorded the minority status.
The Congress-led UPA government at the Centre moved in appeal against the Allahabad High Court order. The university also filed a separate petition against it.
The NDA government spearheaded by the BJP told the Supreme Court in 2016 that it will withdraw the appeal filed by the erstwhile UPA dispensation. It had cited the apex court’s 1967 judgement in the S Azeez Basha case to claim that AMU was not a minority institution since it was a central university funded by the government.
A seven-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud commenced hearing the matter on Tuesday. The arguments remained inconclusive and will resume on Wednesday.