Hollow promise

Published : Jun 29, 2012 00:00 IST

Muslims buying food to break their fast on the first day of the holy month of Ramzan, in Hyderabad. A file photograph. Muslims constitute the largest minority community in India.-NOAH SEELAM/AFP

Muslims buying food to break their fast on the first day of the holy month of Ramzan, in Hyderabad. A file photograph. Muslims constitute the largest minority community in India.-NOAH SEELAM/AFP

The UPA government goes very slow on the scheme it initiated for Muslims in the wake of the Sachar Committee report.

The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, which never tires of boasting about its pro-minority orientation, has failed to live up to the expectations it created in the minorities. The Ministry of Minority Affairs has not even spent 50 per cent of the funds allotted for development works in districts with a high concentration of minorities. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment, led by Dara Singh Chauhan of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and attached to the Ministry of Minority Affairs, has come out with a damning report card on the UPA government's minority-related initiatives. No wonder members of these communities, especially Muslims, have been left wondering whether there is any substance to the promises the government made.

Following the Rajinder Sachar Committee report, which placed Muslims below the Scheduled Castes in terms of socio-economic indicators, the government came up with the idea of identifying districts with a high concentration of minority communities and launching the Multi-sectoral Development Programme (MsDP) in them. The programme was made the flagship scheme of the Ministry of Minority Affairs. The Ministry was created by UPA-I specifically for the development of minorities, which basically means Muslims, who account for 13.4 per cent of the population of a country where all the minorities together constitute 18.4 per cent. Christians constitute 2.3 per cent, Sikhs 1.9 per cent, Buddhists 0.8 per cent and Parsis 0.007 per cent. The literacy rate; work participation; and access to pucca houses, safe drinking water, electricity and water closet latrines were some of the factors that were taken into account to assess the socio-economic conditions and the availability of basic amenities in districts with a high concentration of minorities. Ninety districts with minority populations of 20-25 per cent were earmarked for the MsDP.

The MsDP was launched in the financial year 2008-09. But has the initiative yielded any results at the ground level? Has it made any difference to the quality of life of those it was meant to benefit? The Ministry of Minority Affairs has asked the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) to find out. The ICSSR report is awaited. Prominent Muslim leaders say nothing has been achieved.

Shockingly, the Parliamentary Standing Committee has found that three years after the MsDP was launched, plans to implement it were not even approved for all the 90 districts. In 28 minority concentration districts, plans have only been partially approved. Obviously, implementation remains a distant dream. In projects involving the provision of basic amenities, the rate of implementation is not even 50 per cent.

Under the MsDP, over 2,95,162 houses were supposed to be built under the Indira Awaas Yojana, but only 1,75,008 houses have been built. No clear reasons have been cited by the Ministry for not building the rest. Also, as against 689 schools and 2,498 primary health care centres supposed to be built under the MsDP, only 334 schools and 1,623 primary health care centres have been built. The Ministry cites delays in construction work because of longer gestation periods and delays caused by the process of floating tenders. The committee refused to buy the argument and took serious note of the lapses in implementation.

During field surveys in hospitals in the notified districts, the committee came across gross negligence in hospitals where augmentation of facilities and services had been envisaged. For example, in a Kolkata hospital included under the MsDP scheme, the committee members were appalled by the lack of physicians, gynaecologists, paediatricians, intravenous facilities, escalators, ambulances, medicines and other basic stuff. Similarly, surprise inspections of schools under the scheme exposed a serious lack of facilities at every level.

No wonder the funds earmarked for various development works under the scheme remained unspent. The committee found that out of Rs.2,359.39 crore released under the MsDP from 2009 onwards, only Rs.1,174.93 crore was reported as expenditure by various States and Union Territories. The Ministry cited delay in the transfer of funds to the States to explain the slow pace of implementation. The committee found this unsatisfactory because it is the Ministry's responsibility to oversee the implementation of projects under this ambitious scheme. The committee discovered that except in Jharkhand, in all other States and U.Ts where the MsDP was in operation, the desired monitoring mechanism did not exist. The State-level monitoring committees, which are supposed to monitor the implementation of all programmes under the MsDP, did not meet at all or met infrequently, that too without proper representation of the legislators concerned.

This lackadaisical attitude of the Ministry of Minority Affairs to issues that can actually improve the quality of life of Muslims has left prominent community members wondering whether the government was at all serious in doing anything for their welfare. They cite the Supreme Court ruling of May 9 in which it directed the government to do away with Hajj subsidies in a phased manner in the next 10 years. Despite the apex court's totally unambiguous observations in this regard, the government is still to take any steps in this direction, which is surprising as Muslims themselves have demanded abolition of the subsidy because it is against the basic tenets of Islam. The government has retained Rs.12,000 as fare to be paid by Hajj pilgrims and pays approximately Rs.28,000 a pilgrim to Air India, which operates chartered flights.

In 2011, more than a lakh pilgrims went on the Hajj, and the total subsidy could be anything between Rs.600 crore and Rs.800 crore. Even Muslim Members of Parliament have demanded that instead of giving the so-called subsidy, the government should use that money to provide Muslims medical and educational facilities.

In 2004, a group of Muslim MPs, led by K. Rehman Khan, Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, submitted a proposal to the Prime Minister suggesting a mechanism for managing Hajj travel on the lines of the one that exists in Malaysia and Indonesia. Under this system, called Tabung Haji in Malaysia, a fund is created in which every Muslim saves money which he can at a later stage utilise to fund his Hajj pilgrimage. The fund, meanwhile, is used to finance development projects. In a small country like Malaysia, which has one and a half crore Muslims, this fund is worth $10 billion. The Muslim population in India is 180 million. If the proposed institution targets even 10 per cent of this population, it can reach over 15 million investors, and if the average saving per investor is around Rs.25,000, it can aim to mobilise over Rs.30,000 crore in the course of three to five years. This can change the face of the minority community in India, Rehman Khan said.

Unfortunately, there has been no response from the government on the proposal. In 2007-08, a committee was constituted under the Cabinet Secretary by the Prime Minister. It submitted its report recently, but nothing from the report has been made public. Fed up with the government's apathy on crucial issues, members of the community have decided to launch a mobilisation drive within the community itself on an all-India basis.

Muslim vision' of India

In a series of meetings planned over the next few months, prominent Muslim leaders are expected to discuss the Muslim vision of India and come up with a plan for the betterment of the community, Rehman Khan said. These leaders include politicians cutting across party lines, parliamentarians, intellectuals and ulemas. A concept paper on Muslim vision of secular India has been formulated by Javed Jamil, executive chairman of the International Centre for Applied Islamics, in association with Rehman Khan and Sirajuddin Qureshi, president, Indian Islamic Cultural Centre.

The objective is to make the community itself a major stakeholder in its development and motivate members to take their future into their own hands, for which the government will play the role of a facilitator. The approach paper of this plan, which has been widely circulated and discussed within the community, is likely to be finalised into a concrete plan of action soon.

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