Precariousness of India’s minorities and the Budget

Muslims alone are 14.2 per cent of India’s population. Yet, the Budget allocations for the Ministry of Minority Affairs meant to look after their interests has been declining

The Budget continues to ignore abysmally low minority representation at higher levels in the corporate sector. Representative image: iStock

The latest Union Budget, seen in the context of grants made to help the poor and deserving among minorities, tells the story of another round of lost opportunity.

A quick look at the demands for grants of the Ministry of Minority Affairs made in the Union Budget of 2021-22 shows that these are not moving up to any point that could make a difference.

India’s minorities put together form about 19 per cent of the country’s population and Muslims alone are 14.2 per cent of India’s population as per the 2011 census. Yet, the Budget allocation for the Ministry meant to look after their interests has been declining from 0.17 per cent in 2019 to 0.16 in 2020 and to 0.14 per cent in 2021 of the total Budget outlay. Some of the heads in the Budget papers of successive years deserve more attention than others. These are:

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Support for students clearing Prelims: The Ministry of Minority Affairs provides assistance to students from minority communities who clear preliminary competitive examinations conducted by UPSC, or Union Public Service Commission, State Public Service Commissions, or SPSCs, and Staff Selection Commission, or SSC.

The Budget document (2021 22) says, “The objective of the scheme is to increase the representation of minorities in Civil Services which is presently much lower than the proportion of minority in the population by giving direct financial support to candidates clearing Preliminary Examination of Group A and B posts of Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), state Public Service Commissions (SPSCs) and Staff Selection Commission (SSC).”

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Yet, ₹20 crore provided in the Budget proposals for the year 2019-20 was cut by half to ₹10 crore in the revised Budget. And Union Finance Minister’s proposal for the next year, or 2020-21, was further revised to ₹8 crore for the year. The latest Budget for 2021-22 has kept it again at ₹8 crore.

As per a report submitted by a Government-appointed committee in 2006 only 3 per cent Muslims were in the IAS, 1.8 per cent in the Foreign Service (IFS) and 4 per cent in IPS, or Indian Police Service. This looked up only in as late as 2017 when 5 per cent Muslims were successful in Civil Services Examination conducted by the UPSC. So they lag behind by about two-third, if their representation is to be taken in proportion to their share in India’s population. Yet, the budgetary provision that could have helped in offsetting this handicap has turned out to be less than half of what was proposed two years ago, or in 2019-20.

Free coaching and allied schemes for minorities: This scheme, as per the Budget papers, is meant to “assist economically weaker section candidates belonging to minority communities by providing opportunities for enhancing their knowledge, skills and capabilities for employment in government/private sector through competitive examinations/process of selection, and for admission in reputed institutions.”

The proposed grant under this scheme was ₹75 crore in the Budget proposal made in 2019-20 whereas the actual expenditure under it through the year came to only ₹13.97 crore. The proposal for the next year, or 2020-21, under the same head was at ₹50 crore. This was revised to ₹25 crore and in the latest, or Budget for 2021-22, it has been proposed at ₹79 crore though this can yet be revised and actual expenditure under the head will figure only in subsequent Budget.

Interest subsidy on educational loans for overseas studies: Under the scheme, the government meets some of the interest accrued on educational loans taken by scholars from minority communities for studies abroad. The grant for this in 2018-19 was ₹45 crore. It went down to ₹25 crore in 2019-20 against a Budget proposal for this put at ₹30 crore. The actual expenditure under it went down to less than half. According to papers tabled in Parliament on February 1, the actual amount spent was at ₹14.43 crore. For 2020-21 it was again proposed to be at ₹30 crore. This was revised in Budget estimates for the year to ₹22 crore. This time (for 2021-22) it has been proposed at ₹24 crore which is a little over half of what was allocated at one point of time.

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Scheme for leadership development of minority women: Through past two consecutive Budget proposals for this scheme, there has been a reduction of ₹5 crore, or from ₹15 crore proposed in 2019-20 to ₹10 crore whereas the actual sum shown in the Budget presented on Monday, or February 1, this came down to ₹7.10 crore. In the next Budget (2020-21) the revised amount was ₹6 crore and this time (2021-22) an outlay of ₹8 crore has been proposed for the scheme.

It is so when the Budget document flags the scheme as “to ensure that the benefits of growth reach deprived women, such women are being provided with, leadership training and skill development so that they are emboldened to move out of the confines of their homes and community and begin to assume a leadership role in accessing services, skills and opportunities available to them under various programmes and schemes.”

Integrated educational and livelihood initiative: The scheme has been christened as Nai Manzil, and thus, points to a new landmark to be hit. Yet, the allocation for this was brought down from ₹140 to ₹100 crore during 2019-20 Budget proposals when the Budget for the year was revised. Now the actual sum has turned out to be as low as ₹34.44 crore under this head. In the next year (2020-21) also the proposed sum could not reach what was earlier put at ₹120 crore. This was revised to ₹60 crore and this time (2021-22) under the Nai Manzil scheme a grant of ₹87 crore has been proposed. The scheme is meant to help poor youth belonging to the minority communities to get gainful employment in mainstream economic activity besides reeducating school dropouts from the communities.

USTAD or Upgrading skills and training in traditional arts/crafts: The high sounding acronym USTAD should encompass a vast number of artisans and craftsmen that India has and among whom Muslims have a large share. Their myriad trades have vast potential for both exports and markets back home. The government calls it a new scheme to encourage traditional arts and crafts with the intent to preserve them. Yet, the amount marked for this in the upcoming fiscal (2021-22) year is a paltry ₹47 crore. Last year or in 2020-21 the Budget proposal for this was at ₹60 crore. This is the same amount that was given in 2019-20 after being revised from ₹50 crore to ₹60 crore though the actual sum under the scheme came to be at ₹54.48 crore during the year.

Preserving minorities’ culture and heritage: The scheme has also been dubbed by the Government with much fanfare as Hamari Dharohar, or our moorings. Yet, minorities’ rich heritage has found a poor or cold response in the Budget. The allocation for preserving what is generally glorified is, in fact, a pittance which can well let the heritage perish rather than being preserved and flourish. A mere Rs two crore have been marked in the Budget for 2021-22. Earlier, or in 2020-21, it was upwardly revised from ₹3 crore to ₹5.20 crore though before that only ₹70 lakh turned out to be the actual amount under this head.

What Budget overlooks: The Budget continues to totally ignore abysmally low minority representation at higher levels in the corporate sector. It is worse in the privately run businesses than what is the case with Muslims in Government services. The Economic Times had reported about this over two years ago, or on September 7, 2018 to be precise: “…analysis indicates Muslims constitute a mere 2.67% of directors and senior executives — 62 of the 2,324 executives — among the BSE 500 companies. … The Muslim minority, the most deprived of communities in the Indian jobs market, doesn’t yet figure on the radar of corporate India. Even the affirmative action (AA) framework, which the private sector was prompted to adopt and implement in the last decade, is largely focused on the Dalits, leaving the Muslims entirely to their own devices.”

Nothing can be more damning than this. It indicates that Muslims are being cold-shouldered by the powers-that-be. And the intent is to keep them off from entering into the consequential zone as it has to remain an exclusive preserve of only certain privileged sections since yore to God knows when!

(The writer is an independent journalist based in Delhi. He tweets @abidshahjourno)

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