By Abdul Bari Masoud

The new minority affairs minister Smriti Irani’s statement in the Parliament has contradicted her predecessor Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi’s assertion that funding for minority welfare programmes is not in short supply. Naqvi used to boast about the increase in the minority ministry’s funding whenever he was asked. The budget for minority welfare has been officially acknowledged as having been reduced when Smriti Irani’s written response was read aloud in the Parliament on July 28.

The cut in the minority welfare budget runs counter to the Union government’s slogan, “Sab ka Saath, Sab ka Vikas,” which is espoused by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In addition, it reinforces that this government cares little for minorities by the removal of the sole minority representative from the Union cabinet.

In a written reply, Smriti Irani said that the government has cut the fund allotted for numerous minority welfare schemes between 2019–20 and 2021–2022, and added that the number of beneficiaries under most schemes launched by the Ministry has also declined since 2019-20.

Between 2019–20 and 2021–22, some schemes received more funding than others, but fewer people benefited from them, she noted.

She was responding to a non-starred (in parliamentary term, written) question posed by M. Badruddin Ajmal, an MP of All India United Democratic Front from Assam. He had asked for information regarding the amount of funds allotted, utilised, and the number of recipients under the national programmes put in place for the socioeconomic and educational empowerment of minorities.

Smriti Irani replied that data under the title “physical and financial achievement for various initiatives” showed that beneficiaries and allocations had dropped during the preceding three years.

The drop in beneficiaries and allocations in 2020–21 could be related to COVID–19. Data for 2019–20 and 2021–22, however, revealed that many times, even after two years, the allocations and beneficiaries remained low.

Beneficiaries of employment schemes are fewer.

In response, the minister stated that in 2022–2023, five employment programmes – Seekho aur Kamao, USTTAD, Hamari Dharohar, Nai Roshni, and Nai Manzil – would be combined into one programme known as the Pradhan Mantri Virasat Ka Samvardhan (PM VIKAS).

The number of recipients under the “Nai Manzil” programme has dramatically decreased from 22,359 in 2019–20 to 5,312 in 2021–2022.

Beneficiaries increased in several programmes, but funding was reduced.

Data showed that while there were more beneficiaries in various minority-focused programmes between 2019–20 and 2021–2022, the fund released or sanctioned decreased.

For instance, the pre-matric scholarship programme, which is available to minority students from grade 9 to doctoral level, saw a reduction in funding from `1,424.56 crore in 2019–20 to `1,329.17 crore in 2021–22.

The number of programme participants, however, increased from 55.68 lakh in 2019–20 to 57.10 lakh in 2021–2022.

Numerous coaching and scholarship programmes saw a decrease in beneficiaries.

The number of post-matriculation scholarship recipients decreased from 7.43 lakh in 2019–20 to 7.14 lakh in 2021–2022. The amount of money released or sanctioned decreased during this time from `482.65 crore to `465.73 crore.

The Union government offers scholarships to minority students from ninth grade through doctoral study under this programme. The family income of the beneficiary must not exceed `2 lakh annually in order to qualify for this programme. Additionally, this programme dedicates 30% of the scholarships to female students.

Beneficiaries of the Maulana Azad National Fellowship Scheme also had a similar drop, falling from 1,251 in 2019–20 to 1,075 in 2021–20. The money released or sanctioned under this scheme reduced from `100 crore to `74 crore throughout the course of the two years.

The fellowship is open to minority students who pass the UGC-NET or Joint CSIR UGC-NET exams. Their total family income cannot be more than `6 lakh per year.

In the “Naya Savera” fellowship programme, there were 5,140 grantees in 2021–2022, down from 9,580 in 2019–2020.

Under this scheme, students from minority populations who hail from families with yearly incomes of no more than `6 lakh are eligible for free coaching. This training helps them become ready for a variety of difficult entrance tests.

Funding for the Begum Hazrat Mahal National Scholarship programme, which is only for female students from marginalised communities in classes 9 through 12, fell from `165.20 crore to `91.60 crore during the course of the previous two years. If the household income is less than `2 lakh, students are eligible for the scholarship.

The number of programme beneficiaries declined noticeably from 2.95 lakh in 2019–20 to 1.65 lakh in 2021–2022.

From `8.01 crore in 2019–20 to `7.97 crore in 2021–22, money was provided or sanctioned for the “Nai Udaan” initiative, which supports minority students sitting for the UPSC, SSC, and PSC exams. However, during that time, from 1,539 to 1,641 recipients were added.

It is to be noted that a separate ministry for minority affairs was established on January29, 2006 in accordance with the Sachar Committee recommendation. The ministry received `3700 crores in the first year of its existence. Since then, it hasn’t increased its budget in accordance with the requirements of minority welfare programmes. The current financial year’s yearly budget of `5,020.50 crore is insufficient to cover the demands of the initiatives as the minister herself admitted in reply to a member parliament’s question.

On this sorry state of affairs of the ministry, the previous minister for minority affairs, K. Rehman Khan expressed concern. He stated that he had always maintained that the budget increase for minority welfare over the eight years since this government took office was grossly insufficient.

He explained to Radiance that every government raises the budget after accounting for factors like inflation and demand, but regrettably this government had not done so.

Minority groups also expressed their disgust at how the government treated them like little girls.

The government’s treatment of minorities raises concerns, according to Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH), a prominent Muslim organisation of Indian Muslims. This comes as minorities’ sense of insecurity is growing.

Prof. Mohammed Salim Engineer, national vice-president of JIH, told Radiance that the government’s stance toward minority welfare is very regrettable. According to Salim Engineer, a government that purports to operate by the tenet of “Sab ka Saath, Sab ka Vikas” should not cut funding for minority welfare.

The Jamaat leader stated that in addition to increasing funding for welfare programmes, it was also important to guarantee their complete use because we repeatedly observe underutilisation of the budgeted funds for these programmes.

Six minority groups, including Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Muslims, Parsis, and Jains, had been notified as minority by the government. They all benefit from welfare programmes, but it is terrible that, with the exception of Muslims, no one speaks out in opposition to these events. This scribe contacted some Christian community leaders to elicit their reaction but none of them responded.

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