Muslims and other religious minorities in India have been lagging behind on development indicators pertaining to educational attainment, gender equality and workforce participation.
Jawed A Khan
Despite several minority development initiatives by the government, Muslims and other religious minorities in India have been lagging behind on development indicators pertaining to educational attainment, gender equality and workforce participation. It is found that Muslims account for the highest proportion of out of school children (4.43 per cent) in the country.
Over the last couple of decades, there have been two policy strategies focusing on the development of religious minorities in the country. They are the Prime Minister’s New 15 Point Programme (15 Point Programme) for welfare of minorities and the Multi Sectoral Development Programme (MSDP), introduced in 2006 and 2008, respectively. The MSDP was renamed as the Pradhan Mantri Jan Vikas Karyakram (PMJVK) in 2018. With regard to the interventions under these policy strategies, the 15 Point Programme for the welfare of minorities focuses on enhancing opportunities for education, an equitable share in economic activities and employment, improving living conditions, and prevention and control of communal riots.
No new scheme has been announced for the development of minorities nor have minorities been mentioned in the Union Budget speech for 2022-23. There is a hike of four per cent in the Union Budget over the previous year’s budget (an increase of Rs 210 crore) for the Union Ministry of Minority Affairs, based on a small increase in allocations for the PMJVK. The total budget of the ministry as a proportion of the total Union Budget, however, has declined to 0.12 per cent in 2022-23 (BE) from 0.14 percent in 2021-22 (BE).
The Minority Affairs Ministry’s budget has been increased from Rs 4,820 crore in 2021-22 (BE) to Rs 5,010 crore in 2022-23 (BE) (the 2021-22 revised estimates figure stands at Rs 4,246.05 crore). The ministry utilised only Rs. 3,920.29 crores in 2020-21 (Actuals) against the BE figure of Rs 5,029 crore for the year. It also seems that the Union Budget outlays have not been provided in accordance with the demands for funds made by the Ministry. For 2019-20 and 2020-21, Rs 4,700 crore and Rs 5,029 crore were allocated against demands from the ministry for Rs 5,795.26 crore and Rs 6,452 crore, respectively.
In this budget, schemes relating to the post-matric scholarship, merit cum means scholarships and MSDP/PMJVK have seen small increases in allocation from the previous year’s budget, while several other schemes (such as skill development and women leadership schemes) have seen declines in allocation. The budget allocation for the Maulana Azad Education Foundation (MAEF) has been reduced to Rs 0.01 crore from Rs 90 crore in 2021-22. This will affect the implementation of projects such as construction grants to minority institutions and the Begum Hazrat Mahal Scholarship Scheme for meritorious girls.
The scheme for madrasas and minorities, which was shifted to the Minority Affairs Ministry from the Ministry of Education last year, has received a reduced budget outlay of Rs 160 crore this year (compared to Rs 174 crore in 2021-22). This might affect the education of children in madrasas due to non-payment of honoraria to teachers. The Ministry of Education has reported Rs 310.22 crore in the revised estimates for 2020-21 for this scheme. The scheme provides financial assistance to introduce modern subjects in Madrasas, teachers’ training and augmenting school infrastructure in minority institutions.
Implementation of scholarship schemes
Religious minorities, particularly Muslims, require special attention in the area of educational and economic empowerment. The pre-matric, post-matric and merit-cum-means scholarship schemes face implementation issues with poor coverage of beneficiaries and low unit costs due to inadequate allocations of funds. Usually, utilisation of the budget under the scholarship schemes appears to take place in the last quarter of each financial year. The utilisation in the first three quarters of 2020-21 was only 19 per cent (up to December 2020). Thus, beneficiary students may be receiving their scholarships only towards the end of the academic year.
The Union Government promised to give one crore scholarships to minorities annually under an umbrella scholarship programme (pre-matric, post-matric and merit-cum-means scholarship schemes) in 2019. As against this benchmark, only 58 lakh students received the scholarships provided by the Ministry of Minority Affairs in 2020-21. During the same year, approximately 1.10 crore applications were received for the scholarships. This shows that 47.5 per cent of the total applicants were deprived of scholarship benefits. As for the post matric scholarship scheme, only 36.7 per cent of total applicants received the scholarship that year.
Allow for customised interventions
The amounts given to students as scholarships are not adequate to meet their educational expenses. The unit cost for scholarships in pre-matric, post-matric and merit-cum-means has not been revised since the inception of the schemes in 2007. For instance, only Rs 1,000 per annum is provided to day scholars under the pre-matric scholarship scheme. The scheme for post matric scholarship provides financial support of Rs 7,000 per annum in terms of admission and tuition fee for classes XI and XII and maintenance allowance of Rs 380 per month and Rs 230 per month for hostellers and day scholars, respectively. Only 85 institutes for professional and technical courses have been listed under the merit cum means scholarship scheme. A course fee of Rs 20,000 per annum is reimbursed to students studying in other institutions. Besides, the amount provided as maintenance allowance is a meagre Rs 500 per month for day scholars and Rs 1,000 per month for hostellers.
The CSS guidelines covered under the 15 Point Programme must allow for appropriate or customised interventions for development of minorities by identifying the development gaps in minority concentrated localities and areas. The design of the 15 Point Programme is not appropriate in terms of comprehensive coverage of the minority population and addressing their development needs until and unless the government initiates / designs some targeted schemes / programmes for minorities. In this respect, instead of the current provision of 15 per cent of funding allocation under the 15 Point Programme, resource allocation should be made as per the diverse needs of minority communities across different sectors. Further, the scholarships should be made demand driven, along with additional financial resources to enhance unit costs. The total budget allocation for the Ministry of Minority Affairs should be significantly increased, given the level of deprivation in the educational attainment of minorities.
Jawed A Khan is with the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability, New Delhi