Interview: Justice Rajinder Sachar

Absence of opportunities and education

Print edition : October 02, 2015

New Delhi, November 17, 2006: Justice Rajinder Sachar presenting the Sachar Committee report on the social, economic and educational status of Muslims to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Photo: R.V. Moorthy

Interview with Rajinder Sachar, former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court and president, PUCL.

JUSTICE (retd) Rajinder Sachar, a former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court and president of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, headed a committee constituted in 2005 to study the socio-economic and educational status of Muslims in India. The report submitted by the committee in 2006 highlighted the lack of minority representation in public institutions and recommended a number of measures to address discrimination and lack of access to opportunities for Muslims. The report brought to the fore the need for targeted policy initiatives for the uplift of Muslims. In an interview to Frontline, Justice Sachar talks about the misleading interpretation of Census data, the lack of focus of the present government on socio-economic indicators of minorities, and some of the important recommendations of the committee which would have increased access to opportunities for minorities. Excerpts from the interview:

Was the release of the Census data on religion politically motivated?

Some newspapers seem to suggest that the report was deliberately released before the Bihar Assembly elections. But the fact of the matter is that even the previous government was not completely devoid of political motives in the way in which it handled Census data. The collection of data was completed in 2011. I was aghast when the data on religion were not released by the previous government. I am not rejecting the possibility that the release might be a political ploy by the Bharatiya Janata Party government, but it could be similarly argued that the previous government was not without its motivations for withholding the data. The Census and the details of classification are important data. Information about the Census belongs to all of us Indians. It isn’t government property.

Following the release of the Census data, the emphasis in political discourse has largely been on the percentage growth of communities instead of socio-economic indicators. Your comments.

The interpretation that the rate of growth of Muslims is higher than that of Hindus is a mischievous one with political intentions. According to the Sachar Committee report, at the end of the century, the population of Muslims will consolidate into 18 to 19 per cent approximately. Even in this scenario, the population of Hindus would remain about 80 per cent. But I would further ask what the reason is for this hullaballoo about the Hindu population reducing. What is so special about Hindus? Even if it does, why should it be the focus of political discourse? When we speak of minorities, we forget that this country belongs to them too. They are not outsiders.

Also, the religion-wise data for major socio-economic indicators have still not been released. Your comments.

The data have not been released deliberately. The data on socio-economic indicators wouldn’t project the government in a good light vis-a-vis its record on minorities.

Has any action been taken on the Kundu Committee report which was submitted to the Ministry of Minority Affairs last year?

The Kundu Committee was constituted by the United Progressive Alliance [UPA] government but it submitted its report after the National Democratic Alliance [NDA] government took over. No action has been taken on the findings of the Kundu Committee report as yet. The issues that had been pointed out in the Sachar Committee report continue to be significant. This is why we had suggested that the government initiate an annual data collection process for the minorities.

What are some of the important suggestions of the Sachar Committee report that would have made a significant difference to the socio-economic status of Muslims if implemented?

The Sachar Committee report had suggested that the government put out disaggregated figures on the basis of the religion of people in public services annually. We had recommended that these figures be put out in the public domain. We had laid stress on the lack of education and opportunities for Muslims.

We had recommended that the wakf fund should be utilised for the purposes of the education of the girl child. Targeted programmes need to be attempted for the uplift of the minorities.

The Minority Council of the United Nations has also recommended a targeted approach so that the minority communities are targeted.

The lack of Muslims in public institutions is still appalling. In 2013, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties sent a team to investigate the Muzaffarnagar riots. It suggested that where there is a predominantly Muslim locality, at least one inspector should be Muslim. It gives Muslims some faith in the state in times of crisis. In Uttar Pradesh, a State where about 18 per cent of the population is Muslim, the percentage of Muslims in the police is a mere 4 per cent.

I also want to address one charge that is often levelled against the committee by right-wing politicians and groups. They often say that the move to constitute a committee to study the socio-economic status of Muslims was a wrong approach in a secular country.

They ask why emphasis should be laid only on the status of Muslims. But the references to the Sachar Committee categorically specified that it was tasked to collect the comparative figures of poverty, education, service of Muslims vis-a-vis upper-caste Hindus, Other Backward Classes [OBCs] and Dalits. So, it was a comprehensive report. It was clearly not a communal approach.

One of the most important recommendations of the Sachar Committee report was the setting up of an Equal Opportunities Commission. This exists in the United Kingdom and the United States.

In the U.K., there was an instance of a Sikh person who alleged discrimination when he did not get the job of a Royal Head Constable. When he appealed to the Equal Opportunities Commission, he got a favourable order. Writ petitions and public interest litigations have proved to be effective in matters where the government is a party.

But the courts cannot do much in instances of discrimination by private entities where Muslims are refused accommodation or discriminated against in private employment. This is where the Equal Opportunities Commission comes in.

What is your assessment of the role of the Ministry of Minority Affairs under the present government?

When the present Minister [Najma Heptullah] took over, I criticised her public statement where she downplayed the problems of Muslims. I had said then that she should have been divested of the portfolio. The working of the Ministry under the present government has been thoroughly unsatisfactory.

What is the current status of the former Prime Minister’s 15-point programme for minorities?

The most important aspect for the implementation of these programmes is that they need to be properly targeted. Equitable development cannot take place without proper targeting. This is why the Sachar Committee had come up with a list of minority-concentrated districts. At present, a large number of minority funds are being spent in areas which are not predominantly minority concentrated.

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