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Time to operationalise minority data bank

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By Syed Amin Jafri


At a workshop on 12th Plan for AP minorities welfare department held a couple of months ago, a top-ranking state government official lamented the lack of well-defined database of minorities which can be used for multifarious development and welfare activities of the government. Various beneficiary-oriented government schemes - funded by the central and state governments-- do not have a separate column to capture data relating to Muslims, Christians and other religious minorities, he pointed out. No wonder, many other participants at the workshop emphasized the need to capture data through socio-economic surveys to enable the government to formulate need-based schemes for the welfare of the minorities.


Much before this issue was debated at this workshop, the Prime Minister's High Level Committee on Social, Economic and Educational Status of the Muslim Community in India, better known as Sachar Committee, had noted in November 2006 that "the need for transparency, monitoring and availability of reliable data on a continuing basis across the socio-religious communities (SRCs) on socio-economic conditions and participation in government programmes is critical for designing appropriate policies, ensuring transparency and effectively monitoring various initiatives and programmes."


In other words, availability of detailed data is a prerequisite for good governance. "Availability of such data would also make policy instruments like Right to Information Act more efficacious," the Committee pointed out and recalled that it had faced "the acute problem of non-availability of reliable data and, therefore, had to launch an independent effort to collect, collate and, consolidate available data. The data obtained through these mechanisms with considerable difficulty was still not exhaustive enough to analyse several issues to our satisfaction." The committee stressed the immediate need to make arrangements to collect data for different SRCs on a regular basis and make it available to researchers and the public. The Sachar Committee, therefore, recommended creation of a National Data Bank (NDB) where all relevant data for various SRCs are maintained. All the data should be eventually computerized and made available on the Internet. The census, the National Accounts Statistics (NAS) and NSSO are the most important sources of large scale good quality data but they are not able to readily provide data on crucial variables to assess the social, economic and educational conditions according to SRCs. "There is an urgent need to assess afresh the data needs for evaluating conditions of citizens by SRC status on a regular basis so as to understand and assess the flow of development benefits. The NDB should also be the repository of data on different beneficiary-oriented government programmes undertaken at the national and the state levels along with the details of beneficiaries drawn from different SRCs," the committee pointed out.


The committee also recommended that the details of employment, credit flows, programme participation, etc. should also be shared by various national and state agencies and undertakings with the NDB. For this purpose, the NDB should have the resources and authority to access data from other agencies as well as to obtain required information from government departments both at the Centre and the state levels. In fact, it should be obligatory on the part of the relevant departments of the central and state governments to supply the information to the NDB.


"While the Central Statistical Commission which has been set up recently could provide the broad framework, the NDB should function as an autonomous body. Once such data are available, there is a need to institutionalize the mechanisms for assessment and monitoring in order to suggest policy options on a timely basis," the committee suggested.


In this backdrop, Sachar Committee recommended the setting up of an autonomous Assessment and Monitoring Authority (AMA) to evaluate the extent of development benefits which accrue to different SRCs through various programmes. Academics, professionals, civil society organizations along with state authorities as the official members can be part of this Authority. The latest Action Taken Report (ATR) on Sachar Committee recommendations notes that a National Data Bank, to compile the data on various socio-economic and basic amenities parameters for socio-religious communities, has been set up in the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation. The ATR also points out that an autonomous Assessment and Monitoring Authority (AMA), to analyse data collected for taking appropriate and corrective policy decisions, has been set up in the Planning Commission. However, the National Advisory Council (NAC) recommends to the Government to operationalise both the NDB and AMA on an urgent basis to ensure inclusive growth and empowerment of minorities during the 12th Plan (2012-17).


[The writer is a member of AP Legislative Council and journalist.]


(Courtesy: The Times of India)
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