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23 April 2012

Sachar, Mishra, Harsh Mander, yet the Silent Budget of 2012

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By Dr. Syed Zafar Mahmood


The annual budget of a country reflects the Government’s priorities. It is, in fact, the preface of the financial year's book. However, there is no noticeable mention of Muslims and other minorities in the budget presented by the Finance Minister in the Parliament for 2012-13. It indicates that the Central Government does not seem to be interested in the welfare of Muslims and other minorities during 2012-13. Probably the reason could be that no major election is going to be held in near future. Otherwise, when we look back in retrospect, we discover that only recently - on the eve of provincial elections - the politicians were busy swearing to strive for the betterment and welfare of the Muslims. However, just within a few weeks, it seems that all the tall claims and promises came to a screeching halt and even began moving in the back gear. In December 2011, central ministers had been calling meetings of the Muslim leaders and they were apparently holding consultations as to what better could be done for the minorities in the new financial year and the new five-year plan. However, by the time the Budget began being firmed up the elections had already passed by. Suddenly, Muslims disappeared from sights and minds. A certain state leader did publically accept that her party had been defeated because Muslims did not vote for it. But no similar realizations were heard from any other party. Rather the chintan baithaks inferred that the organization is weak in the state and the number of leaders is unwieldy, etc. A very high level of political sagacity and astuteness is needed to publicly accept the defeat being caused by Muslim 'no vote'.


Why no sub-plan for Muslims?


There is a proposal in the union budget to increase by 18% the sub-plan funds allocated for the welfare of the scheduled castes. The allocation would now go up to Rs 37,113 crore. We are well aware that in 1950 the Muslims and Christians had been, unconstitutionally and clandestinely, excluded through executive fiat, from the definitive list of the scheduled castes. Yet, there is complete silence in the budget in respect of Muslims and Christians. The civil society organization Center for Equity Studies established by the former IAS officer Harsh Mander provided extensive details in its survey report of 2011 under the title Promises to Keep that the only way to implement the Sachar Committee Report is a Budget Sub-Plan for Muslims. The MoS, Minority Affairs rejected this report in the Parliament on the ground of one or two minor statistical inaccuracies. What message does this convey?


In order to promote the small-scale business the Government proposed in the budget that the ministries and public sector companies should make one fifth of their purchase from these dealers. Also one fourth thereof is to be purchased from the persons belonging to the scheduled castes. No similar plan has been proposed for Muslims and Christians. Religious prejudice against them seems to have compounded.


The Sachar Committee had recommended that the Government should confer special privileges and rewards (incentives based on diversity index) on those who proactively ensure religious diversification among the beneficiaries of their works and profession, institutions and housing complexes. The expert committee formed for this purpose by the Ministry of Minority Affairs presented its report three years back. However, the UPA Government made no mention of this scheme even in its seventh budget nor any funds were allocated for this purpose.


Waqf Development Corporation


The Sachar Committee had recommended that Waqf Development Corporation should be established at the national level. The UPA Government has presented its sixth budget after the Sachar Report's acceptance. But the Waqf Development Corporation has not yet matched up to the Government's priority. In the last year’s budget, funds had been earmarked for the new campuses of Aligarh Muslim University, but that work is yet to take off. Obviously, the last year's allocation lapsed, but there is no such mention in the current year's budget.


Muslims regarded as persona non-grata for key posts


The Rangnath Mishra Commission had recommended that fifteen percent of funds should be allocated for minorities in all Government schemes that promote employment opportunities, out of which two third should be allocated only for Muslims. Since then the fifth budget has been presented, but still this reasonable recommendation did not crystallize. The Commission had also recommended that the PM's 15-Point Program for Minorities' Welfare should be accorded a statutory status and judicial protection. No initiative has been taken in this regard so far. The Commission had recommended the establishment of a Coordination Committee of Nationalized Banks for expediting disbursement of loans to the minorities. This well considered proposal could not find place in any of the five annual budgets. The Commission had recommended that Muslims and the members of other minorities should be included in all the commissions, boards, committees and corporations at central and state levels and the chairmanship should rotate among persons professing different faiths. Several years have gone by without any progress in this regard. The Government seems to be content that Muslims occupy only those posts which have something to do with minorities. Why can't they man the positions like union Finance Secretary, Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission, Governor of Reserve Bank, National Security Advisor, Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, IB Chief, Chairman of SCOPE (Standing Committee on Public Enterprises), Chairman of Air India, Chairman of UPSC and Staff Selection Commission, etc? Why the Muslims are permanently regarded as persona non-grata for these posts?


Minority sub-quota not exclusive for Muslims


Two days prior to the declaration of provincial assembly elections held in Feb-March 2012 the Central Government had issued orders - implementing the Mishra Commission Report - that in Government appointments, there will be a 4.5% per cent sub-quota for all the minorities carved out of the 27% OBC reservation. But the Commission had also recommended that, since among all the minorities Muslims constitute 73%, therefore two third of such sub-quota should be allocated for them. But this rider did not find place in the Government order. Here it must be clarified that the Sikhs are also included in minorities while they are also listed in the scheduled castes for whom a separate huge reservation has been in place for more than half a century. Besides, Sikhs and Jains have been occupying Government jobs for a long time in a proportion much larger than their share in population. Still the Government did not implement the Mishra Commission Report. A Muslim-specific impact remains uncommitted and uncertain even in the petty sub-quota of December 2011.


Muslim community needs self-appraisal


The Muslim community also needs to indulge in self-appraisal. Whoever is able to grab some official, semi-official or any autonomous position must go ahead and take it. But such aspiring individuals comprise less than one percent of the community. Why can't the remaining 99% be proactive for the community's uplift? They need not be apprehensive of at least plain speaking vis a vis the Government. In any case the community must not confine its role to casting the ballot at the time of elections. Dr Sir Iqbal, composer of our national song Saarey jahaan se achha Hindostaan hamaara said: Jumbish se hai zindagi jahaan ki: Dynamism enlivens the world. Elsewhere he says, a human being - conscious of his or her worth - need not be content with being a pearl inside a shell lying in deep sea. One should rather pride oneself in being that drop of rain water which stirs the ocean. Much larger number of individuals will have to become vibrant. Particularly those who retire from job, profession or business have manifold obligation. The Creator bestowed upon them competence, experience, a dignified and peaceful life, privileges, better opportunities for the education of their children who too have since settled in life. Even after retirement, by the grace of God, they continue to enjoy for long good health and sound physical faculties including an agile mind. If still they do not actively devote substantial part of themselves for social uplift that would surely be counted as sacrilegious.


[Dr. Syed Zafar Mahmood is President, Zakat Foundation of India, New Delhi. He can be contacted at info@zakatindia.org]

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