The federal cabinet on Tuesday approved the formation and composition of the National Council for Minorities – a body for “advancing the practical realisation of the rights and safeguards provided to non-Muslim communities under the Constitution” – six years after the top court had issued the directions for setting it up.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Federal Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri said Chela Ram Kewlani, a Hindu businessman and PTI leader in Sindh, would be the chairman of the council.
There will be three members each from the Hindu and Christian communities.
The Sikh community will be represented by two members and there will be a member each from the Kalash and Parsi communities.
Qadri further said Mufti Gulzar Ahmed Naeemi and Maulana Abdul Khabir Azad would be the Muslim members of the body.
Besides, he added, the chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology would be the ex-officio member of the council.
The religious affairs and interfaith harmony ministry’s secretary will serve as the ex-officio secretary of the body.
In June 2014, the Supreme Court had asked the federal government to form a national council for minorities’ rights.
The court also asked the government to form a special task force for the protection of the places of worship of minorities.
The verdict came after then chief justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani took suo motu notice of a letter complaining of lack of proper action in the case of the terrorist attack on a Peshawar church in September 2013 in which 81 people were killed. He also took notice of petitions on attacks on Hindu temples and shrines and the threats to the Kalashas as well as Ismailis in Chitral.
It said in all cases of violation of any of the rights guaranteed under the law or desecration of the places of worship of minorities, the concerned law enforcing agencies should promptly take action including the registration of criminal cases against the delinquents. The apex court also asked to develop appropriate curricula at school and college level to promote religious tolerance in the country.
A one-member commission, headed by Dr Shoaib Suddle, was established in January last year pursuant to the order of the Supreme Court for the implementation of the 2014 judgment.
A committee comprising Supreme Court lawyer Saqib Jillani, Additional Attorney General Sajjid Ilyas Bhatti and MNA Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani was also formed for this purpose.
The commission prepared a bill, titled “National Council for Minorities Act, 2020”, and shared it with various stakeholders, including the attorney general, the Prime Minister’s Office, secretaries of various ministries, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) chairman, the provincial advocates general, chief secretaries and the Islamabad chief commissioner, seeking their recommendations within two weeks to increase the independence and effectiveness of the council.