Facing flak from opposition over vacancies in the National Commission for Minorities (NCM), the Centre has appointed five members to the panel.
The NCM, which has the responsibility of protecting interests of the minority communities, was left with no member in March this year.
All its seven members, appointed by previous Congress-led UPA-II government, had retired between September 9, 2015 and March 9 this year.
According to sources in the Union Minority Affairs Ministry, social activist from Uttar Pradesh Gayarul Hasan will be the chairperson of the Commission.
BJP leader from Kerala George Kurian, former Maharashtra minister Sulekha Kumbhare, Jain representative from Gujarat Sunil Singhi and Vada Dasturji Khurshed, chief priest of Udvada Athornan Anjuman, are the other members of the panel.
The process to appoint two more members of the panel, which is expected to be functional in a day or two, “is on”, the sources added.
This is for the first time that a Jain member will be part of the panel after the community was notified as ‘minority’ in January 2014.
The tenure of the panel members is of three years (if not extended).
“So far the tradition was that the Commission had a retired judge or bureaucrat as its chairperson or member. “It is perhaps for the first time that all the members are social activists who know the ground realities,” the sources said.
When asked, Minister of State for Minority Affairs (Independent Charge) Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi confirmed the development.
“These are very capable people. We hope they will do justice to the issues relating to minorities,” Naqvi added.
Former NCM member Captain Praveen Davar, who demitted office in January this year, welcomed the development, but rued that the government could have filled vacancies “much earlier” after the Commission members started retiring in phases from September 2015.
Davar also suggested the ministry to appoint one more Muslim representative to the panel, given the big population of the community vis- -vis other minority communities to ensure effective handling of complaints.
“It should also appoint a senior bureaucrat to the body as you need experienced people around,” Davar added.
The alleged delay in filling the vacancies in the Commission was raised by the opposition to attack the government during the last Parliament session.
The NCM was set up under the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992 to look into complaints from members of five religious communities — Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Zoroastrians (Parsis).
The panel has seven members, including its chairperson and vice chairperson.
Besides NCM, 15 states, including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Maharashtra and Assam, which are home to sizeable minority populace, have set up commissions at their respective levels.
Aggrieved persons belonging to these communities may approach the state minorities commissions concerned for redressal of their grievances or send their representations to the NCM after exhausting all avenues of remedies available.
The functions of the state commissions, inter-alia, are to safeguard and protect the interests of minorities provided in the Constitution and laws enacted by Parliament and state legislatures.