External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid on Sunday attributed the difficulty in administering and implementing welfare programmes for Muslims to conceptual confusion evident at multiple levels — from courts through policymakers and social scientists and experts.
Mr. Khurshid, who previously held charge of the Ministry of Minority Affairs, said a Supreme Court interim stay had facilitated the implementation of four per cent reservation for Muslims in Andhra Pradesh. Yet the Centre had earned a reprimand from the court for its decision to provide a sub-quota for Muslims within the OBC reservation.
“I had an altercation with the Election Commission because I spoke of the government’s commitment to implement reservation for Muslims. When this conceptual confusion takes place, you are called communal.”
Mr. Khurshid said the confusion extended to the ministries with madrasas and Haj coming under the jurisdiction of two different ministries — the Human Resource Development Ministry and the External Affairs Ministry respectively.
The Minister was speaking at a seminar organised to review the progress made in Muslim welfare programmes since the 2006 Rajinder Sachar Committee placed the socio-economic and educational status of Muslims below that of the Scheduled Castes. The highpoint of the seminar was the presentation of a paper, “Six Years After Sachar: A Review of Inclusive Policies in India,” by economist and chief scholar at the U.S.-India Policy Institute Abusaleh Shariff.
The paper said there was no perceptible improvement in the status of Muslims since the Sachar Committee made its recommendations: “Despite the government’s publicised support for the Sachar Committee Report’s recommendations to increase diversity in public spaces and to ensure the minorities’ proportionate benefits from mainstream institutions, the government’s record is notably lacklustre.”
Mr. Shariff’s paper noted that the rate of growth of education at all levels had remained the lowest for Muslims between 2004-05 and 2009-10. Matriculation-level enrolment was the least among both the OBC and general category Muslims in both rural and urban areas, and lower than the enrolment for the SCs and the Scheduled Tribes. At higher levels of education, the distribution was even more skewed in favour of the Hindu general population and other minorities. The paper said this level of Muslim exclusion could only be addressed through institutional reforms and not via “pro-Muslim policy statements and even Muslim-focused programmes.”
The paper said Muslims had almost no presence in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and they continued to be excluded from formal development credit regimes despite specific guidelines and circulars from the Reserve Bank of India.
The paper was critical of the functioning of the Ministry of Minority Affairs. It said allocations for the much-publicised Minority Concentration Districts [MCDs] aggregated to a total of Rs. 37,800 crore until March 2011. Yet even this “meagre” allocation was underutilised: “It was shocking to note that only Rs. 856 crore [which is 22.8 per cent of central allocation] had reached the districts. Much lower amount was found to have been taken to the grassroots...”
Further, “The MCD schemes have hit hurdles which appear insurmountable! Close to the end of the 11th Plan period, just about 3.46 per cent of all allocated funds have reached the intended beneficiaries either at the level of individual or communities or geographic areas.”
Mr. Shariff recommended the establishment of a coordinating body under the Prime Minister’s Office to monitor implementation of socially inclusive development programmes. He also controversially argued that socially inclusive development efforts needed to move away from special purpose vehicles — such as the National Commission for Minorities and the National Minorities Financial Development Corporation — so that they could be integrated into mainstream ministries. The suggestion was strongly opposed by participants who felt this would amount to “snatching away” whatever little Muslims got by way of welfare. The research for the paper was partially funded by the Institute of Objective Studies.