It is one year since the Sachar Committee Report on the Social, Economic and Educational Status of the Muslim Community of India was tabled in Parliament. Subsequently, debates took place in media, academic, and civil society platforms. It is a pity no discussion took place within the political system, including in Parliament, although an “action taken report” (ATR) was presented by the Minister for Minority Affairs. The ATR appears to be confused and short-sighted.
When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took the bold step of constituting a seven-member committee of experts (of which I was the member-secretary), a considerable degree of hope was built up among Muslims as well as among the intelligentsia and visionaries who believed that in order to harness India’s economic potential, it is imperative that Muslims along with the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes are brought into the developmental fold. Many religious minorities are left to fend for themselves, and appear relegated, not by design but as a matter of practice, to the fringes and peripheries.
The parameters empirically evaluated by the Sachar Committee, especially in the areas of elementary and higher education, access to employment and credit, provisioning of welfare and social development, show such disturbing occurrences. In short, it was found that among comparable groups (including the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes), Muslims were falling out of the growth paths, as in the case of literacy, and elementary and higher education. One also finds that poverty is deepening among urban Muslims across India.
The national government has made some efforts during the past year to address various aspects of Muslim deprivation. To begin with, a revised 15-point programme was announced (even before the Sachar report was made public). Debates continued on the type of affirmative favours for Muslims, especially after the Ranganath Mishra Committee revealed that Muslims (including Dalit Muslims) could be provided with the benefit of reservation.
Yet one finds a lack of seriousness in such proposals. Then came the 2007-08 Budget announcements — exclusive scholarships to poor and deserving Muslims, increased allocation for the “minority development and finance corporation” and the “Maulana Azad education foundation.” These special programmes have inadequate funding and are difficult to implement — in the absence of “motivation, desire and efforts” from the States to utilise such funds. Often, the lack of trained personnel and an institutional mechanism to implement and monitor such programmes are the obstacles.
In spite of opposition and criticism, the Finance Minister made an announcement, earmarking 15 per cent of the developmental budget for the benefit of the minorities including Muslims. But it was not clear what kind of programmes and under what budget heads such an onerous task would be undertaken in the absence of provisions within the institutional set-up to create a separate statistical profile for Muslims in the pro forma application forms, and monitoring tools. I only hope the Finance Ministry makes an announcement with respect to the impact of such a policy announcement, especially in terms of access to developmental credit.
The Sachar Committee recommendations were aimed at effecting systemic changes in institutional functioning and improvement in governance, which are essential to enhance the inclusiveness of the marginalised communities. But the poor performance of the Ministry for Minority Affairs is shocking; it has failed to deliver any noteworthy service.
The larger malice of exclusion has to be fought unitedly by all ‘regular-line departments’ and Ministries at the national and State levels. It also needs collaboration and partnership with civil society and private institutional structures. How will a separate Ministry ensure the implementation of more than 300 programmes that aim to alleviate poverty and improve human development which will promote inclusiveness of the excluded, whether they be Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes or Muslims?
While the Minority Affairs Minister did present an ATR on the Sachar Committee recommendations, one finds that the context of Muslim focus is missing. Besides, the ATR is fraught with confusion and misinformation. For example:
It recommends geographic targeting — 90 minority districts identified to provide “basic amenities and employment opportunities.” Only about half of the districts have Muslims, and then what these basic amenities are is not specified. Only about 30 per cent of Muslims are covered in this approach, and the question is: what happens to the remaining 70 per cent, spread all over India?
Further, the ATR refers to a “substantial Muslim population.” It does not clarify whether this refers to 90 selected districts. In my judgment, the “substantial Muslim population concentrations” must be defined at the level of the taluks and blocks and not at the level of the district, confined to only 90 districts. Given the advantage of decentralisation through the panchayats, the taluk-block level focus will help reach out to the maximum number from the deprived communities. It is important that the Sachar Committee highlighted status of Muslims in a comparative perspective, but the ATR refers to ‘Minorities,” thus diluting the Muslim focus.
It is shocking that the ATR is silent on the need for universalisation of education. Besides, no mention is made about promoting higher education among Muslims. A strategy must be evolved to determine what mechanism will be used, and how it will be used, to improve the representation of Muslims in the Central and State administrations, and in public sector undertakings.
In the absence of any time-line, programme-specific implementative strategy and clarity with respect to monitoring tools and mechanisms, no results will be forthcoming. It is important to mention that a flat policy of earmarking 15 per cent of budgetary allocations to favour the minorities is not implementable. Rather, the service delivery procedures must use population shares at the “programme specified operational levels” such as the district, taluk and block levels so as to ensure maximum coverage and provide a sense of equity.
The early euphoria and expectations are dying out. About a year has passed since the Sachar Committee Report was tabled in Parliament, and the people at large are becoming disappointed. I only hope this does not lead to frustration. (Courtesy: The Hindu, November 17, 2007)
----The author was member-secretary of the Sachar Committee