The 15-point Programme for the welfare of Minorities was first approved by late Indira Gandhi in 1983 and reiterated by late Rajiv Gandhi and has now been modified by the present UPA Government.
The 15-point programme is as follows:
1. In the areas, which have been identified as communally sensitive and riot prone, impartiality and secular record must be posted. In such areas and even elsewhere, the prevention of communal tension should be one of the primary duties of DM and SP. Their performances in this regard should be an important factor in determining their promotion prospects.
2. Good work done in this regard by District and Police officials should be rewarded.
3. Severe action should be taken against all those who incite communal tension or take part in violence.
4. Special Court or Courts specially earmarked to try communal offences should be set up so that offenders are brought to book speedily.
5. Victims of communal riots should be given immediate relief and provided prompt and adequate financial assistance for their rehabilitation.
6. Radio and TV must also help in resorting confidence, communal harmony and peace in such affected areas.
7. It is unfortunate that certain sections of the press sometimes indulge in tendentious reporting and publication of objectionable and inflammatory material, which may incite communal tension. Editors, printers, publishers and other concerned will cooperate in finding a way to avoid publication of such material.
Recruitment of State and Central Services
8. In the recruitment of the police personnel, state Governments should be advised to give special consideration to Minorities. For the purpose, the composition of selection committees should be representative.
9. The Central Government should take similar action in the recruitment of personnel to the Central Police Forces.
10. Large-scale employment opportunities are provided by the Railways, Nationalised Banks and Public sector Enterprises. In these cases also the concerned departments should ensure that a special consideration is given to recruitment from the Minority communities.
11. In many areas recruitment is done through competitive examinations. Often Minority groups have been handicapped in taking advantage of the educational system to compete on equal terms in such examinations. To help them to overcome these handicaps steps should be taken to encourage the starting of coaching classes in Minority educational institutions to train persons to compete successfully in these examinations.
12. The acquisition of technical skills by the Minorities are today lagging behind would also help in national development. Arrangements should be made to set up ITIs and polytechnics by Government or private agencies in predominantly Minority areas to encourage admission in such institutions of adequate number of persons belonging to these communities.
13. In various development programmes including the 20-point programme, care should be taken to see that Minorities secure in a fare and adequate measure the benefits flowing therefrom. In the various committees, which are set up to oversee the implementation of such programmes, number of these communities should be actively involved.
14. Apart from the above general issue there are various local problems, which develop into needless irritants to Minorities. For instance encroachments of Wakf properties and on graveyards have led to protests and grievances in some places. Suitable steps should be taken to deal with such problems on an expeditious and satisfactory base.
15. Problems relating to Minorities need to be attended to on a continuing base so that apprehensions are allayed and genuine grievances redressed. To facilitate this, a special cell will be created in the Ministry of Home Affairs to deal with matters relating to Minorities.
New 15-Point Programme
· Enhancing opportunities for education.
· Ensuring equitable share in economic activities and employment.
· Improving the condition of living of Minorities.
· Prevention and control of communal disharmony and violence.
The Highlights of the programme are:
1.Equitable availability of ICDS services.
2.Improving access to school education.
3.Greater resources for teaching Urdu.
4.Modernising Madarsa Education.
5.Scholarship for meritorious students from Minority communities.
6.Improving education infrastructure through the Maulana Azad Education Foundation.
7.Self-employment and wage employment for poor.
8.Upgradarion of skill through technical training.
9.Enhanced credit support for economic activities.
10.Recruitment to State and Central Services.
11.Equitable share in rural housing scheme.
12.Improvement in condition of slums inhabited by Minority community.
13.Prevention of communal incidents.
14. Prosecution of communal offences.
15. Rehabilitation of victims of communal riots.
Target group: Eligible sections amongst the Minorities notified under the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992 viz. Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, and
Eligible sections amongst the Minorities notified under the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992 viz. Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, and
Earmarking: 15% of the physical targets and financial outlays to be earmarked for Minorities, wherever possible.
15% of the physical targets and financial outlays to be earmarked for Minorities, wherever possible.
Implementation: By Central Ministries / Departments through State Govt. / Union Territories. The ministry of Minority Affairs is the nodal Ministry.
By Central Ministries / Departments through State Govt. / Union Territories. The ministry of Minority Affairs is the nodal Ministry.
Monitoring: State level and District level committees to monitor implementation. Committees of Secretaries (COS) to review progress at the central level every six months and a report to be submitted to the Union Cabinet.
State level and District level committees to monitor implementation. Committees of Secretaries (COS) to review progress at the central level every six months and a report to be submitted to the Union Cabinet.
To my mind the revised 15-point programme is not an improvement on the earlier one, as very important points 1 to 5 of earlier 15-point programme do not find adequate place in the revised programme, which were very essential for the protection of Minorities.
Only making programmes will not serve the purpose, its implementation matters. Bureaucracy has to rise to the occasion with open heart to implement the programme and it requires constant monitoring. Had these points been implemented, Gujarat carnage would not have taken place.
It has been universally acknowledged that the Minorities, which are educationally and financially backward, need special protection and incentives. In India out of the five Minority communities, notified under the Minorities Commission Act, 1992, only the Muslims are educationally and financially backward and need special consideration.
National Minorities Commission and State Minorities Commissions are not serving the purpose for which they were constituted. The Government departments are reluctant in responding to the queries of the Commission and sometimes they do not even acknowledge the communications sent by the Commissions. This is because constitutional status has not been given to such Commissions. They neither have power to call the officers and compel them to part with the information nor have they the investigation powers in the manner National Human Rights Commission and SC/ST Commissions have, even the reports of the national Minorities Commissions have not been laid before the parliament. This requires urgent corrective action, till then quarterly meetings may be convened by the national Minorities Commissions with Secretary Ministry of Minorities and the state Minorities Commissions at Chief Secretary level with the directions to the heads of the departments to bring replies of all references made during that quarter in the meeting. These will expedite the replies and infuse sense of responsibility in them.
As reported by Sachar Committee, deliberately Muslim Minority areas have been reserved for SC/ST to reduce the Muslim representation in the legislature, Sachar Committee has pointed out nine constituencies each in U.P. and Bihar and 10 in West Bengal and they are being kept reserved for decades, two such seats are in Nagina and Najibabad. SC/ST majority areas have been declared general seats. This requires immediate corrective step.
Since now Minister for the Welfare of Minorities has been appointed, it is hoped that the implementation of the programme would improve. It is unfortunate that two important matters pertaining to Minorities, namely Minority educational institutions and Haj affairs, have been withheld from the said Ministry. These are required to be handed over immediately to the Ministry of Minorities Affairs. A number of problems, relating to Haj affairs are to be looked into, most important is Air Fare. In normal days air fare to and from Jeddah which is four-hour journey is about Rs. 25,000 but during Haj season, it is artificially/deliberately increased to about Rs. 40,000, whereas the return Airfare to Dubai which is at equi-distance to Jeddah is around Rs. 11,990 + taxes. The return airfare to London which is at double the distance is Rs. 15,500. Airfare to Israel, which is six-hour journey, is Rs. 18,000. Then why this step-motherly treatment for Haj pilgrims. Government is said to be spending Rs. 250 crore on subsidy, which is under challenge in the Courts. If tenders are invited from private airlines, they may offer airfare not more than Rs. 10,000 per Haj pilgrims and there will not be any need for subsidy and Haj pilgrims, who travel privately shall also be benefited, who are not given subsidy by the Government.
The UPA Government, under the leadership of the UPA chairperson and the Prime Minister made sincere efforts to constitute various Commissions for Minorities welfare. The sphere is very wide but I shall concentrate on one aspect of the report of the Committee constituted under the chairmanship of Justice Rajender Sachar.
It has been reported by the Committee that in some areas the condition of Muslims is worse than that of SC/STs, and in the light of this report, Muslims as a class can be termed as socially, financially and educationally backward. In this context the misinformation is being spread by some Government agencies and others that the Muslims are not entitled for reservation on the basis of this report, since the Constitution does not permit religion-based reservation. To support this reasoning, example of the judgment of the Constitution bench of AP High Court in S.T. Muralidhar Rao V/S Govt. of A.P. in writ 12239 / 204 is cited, where the high Court had set aside 5% reservations made by the AP Government for the Muslims.
The background of Andhra case is that in an earlier case the High Court had set aside the reservation for Muslims on the ground that no proper survey was conducted to ascertain that Muslims as a class are backward.
The Andhra Government constituted a committee to conduct such a survey. It was given neither proper finance nor sufficient time. To show that election promises are fulfilled, half-baked reservation was made. In the judgment the report of the committee was discussed by the High Court in which the committee complained of lack of infrastructure and finance to submit report. The reservation notification on such half-baked report was bound to be set aside. The observation of the High Court and its direction are mentioned below which will show that the Muslims cannot be refused reservation.
The expression “socially and educationally backward classes” in Article 15(4) and the expression “backward class of citizens” in Article 16(4) may include any caste, community or social group, which may be identified as socially backward. That a caste is also a class of citizens and if such cast as a whole in its entirely is socially and educationally backward, provisions can be made in favour of such caste on the basis that it has socially and educationally backward class of citizens within the meaning of Article 15(4). The same can be treated as a backward class within the meaning of Article 16(4).
The Muslims as a group are entitled to affirmative action/ social reservation within the constitutional dispensation provided they are identified as a socially and educationally backward class for the purpose of Article 15(4) and backward class of citizens under Article 16(4). Providing social reservations for the Muslim community or section or groups amongst them in no manner militates against secularism, which is a part of basic structure of he Constitution.
The backward class can be identified on the basis of a caste which is a social class in India provided it is identified to be socially and educationally backward for the purpose of Article 16(4). There is no legal or constitutional impediment for identification of the backward classes with reference to the caste. However, the requirement is that rational and scientific criteria must be applied to find out whether any caste, occupational groups, classes or sections of people qualify for classifying them as backward classes. If the criterion evolved and applied for identification of the backward classes is found to be improper and invalid, then the classification of socially backward classes based on the criteria will have to be held to be inconsistent with the requirements of Articles 15(4) and 16(4).
The process of identification of Muslims as a group as socially backward by the Commissionerate of Minorities Welfare is totally vitiated since it did not determine any specific criteria for the purpose of identifying the backward classes and applied the same in order to find out as to whether Muslims qualify to be categorised as socially backward as well as backward for the purpose of Articles 15(4) and 16(4). The Commissionerate acted in undue haste. The Commissionerate failed to undertake any serious investigation and enquiry as is required before identifying the Muslim community as a socially backward class. In the absence of laying down the criteria for ascertaining the backwardness, the entire report is to be treated as an exercise in futility. The approach by the authority is improper and invalid. In the absence of any such finding as to the social backwardness, the Muslims cannot be classified as a backward class either for the purpose of Article 15(4) or Article 16(4) of the Constitution of India.
The authority appointed to identify the backward classes is free to adopt such method / criteria as it thinks fit and proper. As long as such method / criteria is rational, scientific, fair and adequate, the same may satisfy the constitutional requirements.
Identification of backward classes excludes exclusion of creamy layer.
A reservation in excess of 50% only is to meet extraordinary situations.
The High Court gave the following directions to the A.P. Government:
The Govt. of Andhra Pradesh shall constitute the Commission for backward classes within three months and seek opinion of the commission for inclusion of the Muslim community into the list of backward classes.
The Commission shall examine the request of the Government and shall decide the same by giving its opinion within a period of six months.
It shall be open for the Government to forward the entire material collected by the Commissionerate of Minorities Welfare for its consideration.
The Govt. shall evolve appropriate criteria in terms of the directions of the Supreme Court of India in Indra Sawhney’s case. This criteria shall be laid down within three months or in the alternative follow the criteria laid down by the Govt. of India in its memorandum dated 08.09.1993 as affirmed by Court in Ashok Kumar Thakur v/s state of Bihar, in order to facilitate the expeditious disposal of the claim of Muslim community for their identification as a backward class.
It appears that the above-mentioned directions have not been complied with. Had it been done, there was no impediment in giving effect to the reservation which could withstand the judicial scrutiny.
Now since the comprehensive survey has been conducted by the Sachar Committee, which proved that Muslims as a class are educationally and socially backward, the Government can legally make reservation for Muslims if there is will to do.
Otherwise, also the Government has already made religion-based reservation in the case of SC/ST where converted Muslims or Christians are deprived of reservation, whereas converted Sikhs and Buddhist get such reservations. Late Pt. Nehru, in his celebrated book Discovery of India has mentioned that Buddhism is certainly not Hinduism or even the Vedic Dharma and Sikhs have already been declared as Minority community.
Since the representation of Muslims in services, educational institutions, business and agriculture is extremely inadequate, reservation for them in services and educational institutions, will serve the purpose of the Constitution, to bring them at par to other Indians. It will not be an appeasement.
[Excerpted from Rana Parween Siddiqui’s speech at a programme on Prime Minister’s 15-point Programme for the Welfare of Minorities organised by Delhi Minorities Commission to mark the UN Minorities Day on December 19.]