Congress MP Shashi Tharoor is set to introduce a private Bill in the Lok Sabha aimed at bringing to life the core recommendation of the High Powered Sachar Committee appointed by the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in March 2005 – appointment of an Anti-discrimination and Equality Commission.
The proposed enactment is unlikely to be taken seriously by the Narendra Modi-headed BJP government with a comfortable majority. But there can be no doubt that if enacted, Tharoor’s Bill would go a long way in promoting equality and preventing discrimination not only against Muslims but every vulnerable segment of India’s citizenry.
The Sachar Committee’s mandate was to prepare a comprehensive report on the ‘Social, Economic and Educational Status of the Muslim Community in India’ and to make necessary recommendations for addressing issues related to the socio-economic backwardness of the community.
The Committee’s report submitted in November 2006 highlighted the fact that Indian Muslims were victims of institutionalised discrimination and suggested several short and long-term remedial measures. In 2007 the then UPA government tabled the report in Parliament and declared its intent to act upon all the Committee’s recommendations.
However, as several reports have since pointed out, the actions taken have at best been token in nature.
Between 2007 and 2014, when the UPA government was voted out of power, the recommendation for an Equal Opportunities Commission was tossed around between the Ministry for Minorities Affairs, National Commission for Human Rights and the National SC/ST Commission before being altogether forgotten.
Whether the national scene would have been altogether different had a law of the kind now suggested by Tharoor been enacted during the pendency of the UPA regime is now a matter of conjecture. However, his private Bill has within it the clear possibility of placing before citizens a promising counter-narrative.
The overarching aim of the Bill is to promote equality and prevent harassment, boycott, segregation, discriminatory violence and victimisation of any targeted group of persons based on caste, ethnicity, race, sex, gender identity, pregnancy, sexual orientation, religion and belief, tribe, disability, linguistic identity, HIV status, nationality, marital status, food preference, skin tone, place of birth or residence, age.
In addition, it includes any group of persons suffering widespread and substantial social, economic, political, cultural or educational disadvantage.
The wide-ranging protection provided by the Bill cannot be dismissed on the ground of alleged “appeasement of minorities”.
The ‘Anti-Discrimination and Equality Bill, 2016’ envisages the creation of a Central Equality Commission to be headed by a Chief Equality Commissioner (CEC) who is a retired judge of the Supreme Court or chief justice of a high court or a senior advocate practicing in the Supreme Court. The CEC is to be assisted by two Equality Commissioners (ECs). One of them would be a distinguished academic and the other a member from civil society who has “worked for organisations committed in advancing the purpose of the Act”. At least one of the three ECs should be a woman.
The other nine ex-officio members of the Commission will be the chairpersons of the present national commissions for SCs, STs, minorities, human rights, women etc.
The functions of the Chief Equality Commission shall include:
- Eliminate discrimination, harassment, boycott, segregation, discriminatory violence and victimization.
- Encourage the formulation and adoption of good practice in relation to equality, anti-discrimination and diversity for the disadvantaged groups.
- Promote awareness and understanding of the rights and duties under this Act.
- Assist aggrieved persons in seeking legal remedies provided under this Act.
- Monitor the enforcement of this Act.
- Review, from time to time, the functioning of this Act and make recommendations for its improvement.
- Approach any court for the enforcement of this Act.
- Require any public servant to undergo diversity training.
- Take any other reasonable action towards the implementation of this Act.
- Conduct equality impact assessments of the activities of composition of any public authority or any private person performing a public function.
- Direct a State Equality Commission (to be set up along similar lines as the central commission) to investigate any alleged breach of provisions of this Act.