Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Beyond the Bluster: Equity and Justice in West Bengal

Abusaleh Shariff and Tanweer Fazal
19 April, 2011

One doesn’t need to be a registered student at an Oxford College to understand the difference between sops, assurances and promises made in an election year and the actual performance of a regime that has ruled a state for more than 30 years. Muslims constitute 25 per cent of West Bengal’s population. Despite such high concentration, the near absence of Muslims from the public arena - art, culture, literature, public service, education—is alarming and should cause consternation in any polity. However, any suggestion that Muslims are marginalized in West Bengal is taken as an affront to the so- called ‘exceptional’ record of the Left Front.

In an ‘editorial article’ in The Hindu (dated 14th April 2011) - a straight lift from the CPI (M)’s election campaign material titled, Left Front Government and the development of Muslim minorities in West Bengal, supplemented occasionally by the state finance minister’s budget speeches (mind you, not reports about the utilization of funds promised or audits of welfare schemes introduced) - the errors are sought to be rectified on the basis of ostensibly ‘new data’ and figures. Note that the evaluation and assessment of mass welfare and development programme is at best left to the experts such as the Indian Statistical Institute which is located in the heart of Kolkata or better still with the National Council for Applied Economic Research, New Delhi, where one of the authors of this article works.

There is an accusation that 2001 census figures are misleading and that one should instead rely on the NUEPA state report cards, which show the Left Front rule in a rather positive light. But how reliable are these report cards, based on data provided by the state governments? The report card itself comes with the statutory warning that “in no way it (NUEPA) is involved in data collection as such and therefore the accuracy and truthfulness of the data rests with the states/ UTs” (State Report Cards, 2008-09, p. xxv). What is most striking about these NUEPA report cards is that in several states, the proportion of Muslim children at the primary level is much higher than the share of Muslims in the state population. For the recent year 2009-10; West Bengal boasts that 32.3 of every 100 school children were Muslims, in Assam where Muslims comprise 31 per cent of the population, 40 percent of children enrolled in primary schools are Muslims; in Karnataka, where Muslims are only 12.2 per cent, enrollment is a whopping 35.5 percent at the primary level. It should be obvious that these State report cards cannot be used to trash the figures and trends generated through the census. Note that the Annual Status of Education Report (Rural) for the 2010 brought out by a well know civil society organization PRATHAM reports that only 60-70 % (page 41- Map of India, it is in the red band) of all the enrolled children continue to attend the first 4/5 years of schooling in West Bengal and this proportion is expected to be much lower for the Muslim community. Another analysis by Rakesh Basant and Gitanjali Sen suggests that overall, the share of eligible 20 years old and above Muslims in higher education is a meager 3 per cent, compared this with about 2.5% for the SCs (as expected) and a staggering 15 per cent share amongst the upper caste Hindus (Economic and Political Weekly, 25th September, 2010).

The Census of India and the household surveys are dependable sources for such data. Since Census is undertaken once in ten years, the NSSO (GOI) surveys are good source for assessment during the intermittent period. It is clear from the data below that there has been some improvement in enrollments at the primary and elementary levels but there is stagnation at the levels of matriculation and higher levels in West Bengal. But the startling fact is the discrepancy between various communities continues to be large, especially so at higher levels. Even in the year 2007-8, Muslims had the lowest enrollment at the primary level at 85 per cent followed by 50 per cent at middle level, which is the least and even lower than the SCs/STs. But the disparity is many folds higher at matriculation and higher levels: at only 15 per cent (note a 3 per cent point increase over the 2001 level of 12 per cent) for Muslims compared with 39 per cent amongst the group other than the Muslims and the SCs/STs.

Educational Level Differentials in West Bengal, 2001 and 2007-8
Share of Eligible Children in respective Caste-Religious Groups
Muslim SCs/STs All Others
2007-08 2001 2007-08 2001 2007-08 2001

Matriculation & above 15 12 17 13 39 38
Middle 50 26 52 30 62 58
Primary 85 50 90 54 93 80

Source: Estimated by Dr. Abusaleh Shariff from the unit level records of the 64th Round NSSO Survey for the reference year 2007-08; and Census of India, 2001

The West Bengal state government today gloats over the huge expansion in budgetary allocation for madarsa education - up from Rs 5.6 lakhs in 1976-77 to Rs 574 crores in the current budget. But this is precisely the problem. Madarsa education been the typical response of governments across the board towards Muslim educational needs and reflects the utter refusal of the political mainstream to see beyond madarsas. Note that just about 2 per cent of the school-going Muslim children attend Madarsa educational institutions in West Bengal - the remaining go to government, aided and increasingly unaided schools. There is a suggestion that employment of Muslims in the education sector should include the 20,000 teachers employed in the madarsas. It is ignored however; that the data cited in the Sachar Report was based on the data provided by the state governments—that too after much persuasion; obviously, the West Bengal government did not deem the madarsa teachers as government employees in 2005. Moreover, the West Bengal Madrasah Service Commission was established only in 2008, when the Party, smarting from the peasant resistance in Nandigram, and the urban unrest over Rizwanur’s death, was already in salvage mode. Does it really think that this gesture can be seen as anything but an election ploy—given especially the chief minister’s statement in 2002 that madarsas in Bengal were hotbeds of anti-national activities (but of course following an uproar he claimed that he had only been asking for modernization of madarsas).

Among its flagship measures, the Left Front government claims to have extended the benefits of reservation to 85 per cent of the Muslims through an expansion in the list of backward classes. Indeed a hurriedly promulgated government notification (no.6309-BCW/MR-84/10) has been produced in this regard. But it is here that the Left has much more to answer than it can rejoice over. Crass electoral calculations is clearly the motivation rather than any commitment towards advancing equity and deepening citizenship, for the same regime had kept the OBC question in West Bengal more or less at bay by mischievously understating the presence of OBCs, particularly Muslim OBCs in the state. As a result of such a prejudicial politics, a large number of backward groups in Bengal were denied of reservation benefits for decades. Now suddenly, when faced with an imminent erosion of popular base, the government came to realize the existence of this large chunk of Muslims - some 50 odd caste groups - as backwards. The Left Front apologists would prefer to hide behind the recently submitted Ranganath Misra Commission report to explain away the delay, but can they answer why the Left Front failed to implement the Mandal Commission report since 1990? Apart from Mandal Commission, various state governments instituted their own state backward classes commissions such as the Mungeri Lal Commission (1975) in neighbouring Bihar, the Havanur Commission (1972) in Karnataka or the Ambasankar Commission (1982) in Tamil Nadu - only the Left in Bengal remained unfazed by these currents. Even now, the Left Front’s discomfiture with the caste-based OBC reservation is evident by the fact that it still remains shy of exhausting the full quota of 27 per cent despite having now enlisted more than 100 caste groups as OBCs. The quantum of OBC reservation in West Bengal rests at 17 per cent despite the recent enhancement.

The claims of reserving 10 per cent quota exclusively for Muslim groups is erroneous as the actual government notification stays clear of any religion-specific quota, and the only sub-categorisation is that between backward and more backward groups. Muslim groups tend to populate both the sub-categories; yet they cannot form the entire 10 %. The reason for this obfuscation is simple. Since a caste reservation is purported to bring little political dividends, the Left propagandists rush to flag it as ‘Muslim reservation’. Further, in the absence of any caste census, the claim that the 10 per cent enhancement in OBC reservation would cover 85 per cent of the Muslim population is at best speculative, and at worse, deceptive. The seriousness of the exercise also comes to be questioned as after this notification, West Bengal for all intents and purposes, remains the only state in the country where the number of Muslim OBC groups is more than those from the majority community.

Now let us take a look at a few popular appointments made in the state of West Bengal during 2009-11. Kolkata Police has appointed eleven Muslim sergeants from out of a total recruitment of 511, a mere 2.2 per cent. Similarly, Fire service appointed nine Muslims from out of 605 (1.5 per cent), the Food Corporation of India twelve out of 564 (2.1 per cent) and Home Guards 35 out of 1607 (2.2 per cent). These appointments are close to the share of Muslims in the total state government employees in West Bengal—which is a paltry 3-4 per cent.

The authors of the article cite the state government’s successful implementation of land reforms as an instance of Muslim amelioration. However a 2008 study based on NSSO 61st round and prepared for the Department of Minority Affairs and Madrasah Education, Govt. of West Bengal (‘Employment and Economic Status of Socio-Religious Communities in West Bengal’, by Zakir Husain, Institute of Development Studies, Kolkata, 2008:p.24) expose the emptiness of such claims by drawing attention to the fact that the average size of land holdings continues to be the lowest among Muslims when compared with other socio-religious categories such as Hindu upper castes, backward classes and other minorities. The difference is particularly glaring when compared with Hindu upper castes who own and posses nearly 0.4 hectare per capita while for Muslims it is slightly more than 0.2 hectare per capita. For Hindu backward classes the average landholding was close to 0.3 hectare per capita. The yield from agriculture is also registered as least for the Muslims (Rs. 141 per hectare as against Rs. 183 per hectare for Hindu upper castes) thus suggesting inferior quality of land holding. This persisting agrarian inequity seems to have hurt them the most as more than 80 per cent of Bengal’s Muslims live in the villages and the state’s land acquisition policy too, whether in Singur or Nandigram, remained insensitive to their felt-needs.

The protagonists may revel in the ‘impressive track record’ of the West Bengal government in implementing various welfare measures—reports from the ground do not seem to share their optimism though. A study conducted by the Centre for Equity Studies, New Delhi, found that in the district “24 Parganas…only 2.2% minority BPL households have been covered by the self-employment SGSY scheme, and less than 1% of the households have actually received bank credit. In the year 2010, right up to November, not a single Muslim SHG received bank credit. Likewise, in MGNREGA, although Muslims constitute 36% of the population and 45% of the job card holders, they account for only 13% of the wage employment generated under the programme.” (Promises to Keep: Investigating Government’s response to Sachar Committee recommendations, p. viii). Further, the “utilisation of MsDP funds for 2010-11, was a mere 22 % by the middle of third quarter for the whole country. Expenditures were as low as 18 % in Bihar, and a little higher at 30% in West Bengal.” (ibid., p. vi) Sure, West Bengal performed better than Bihar or many other states in terms of expenditure, but with 70 per cent of funds still unspent, it’s hardly the sterling example of welfarism that it’s trying to project itself as now.

West Bengal Development & Equity Controversy

There is a raging controversy with respect to a review of West Bengal development and equity which was undertaken by me. The following links and news reports will put this controversy in perspective. There is a rejoinder filed for publiction with the Hindu daily news paper.

The Hindu |14th April 2011: tp://
The India Today | April 11, 2011:
The Hindu| March 23, 2011 :
Times of India| Mar 23, 2011:

THE HINDU : Published: March 23, 2011 12:01 IST | Updated: March 23, 2011 12:01 IST New Delhi, March 23, 2011
Muslims and the OBC tangle in West Bengal ahead of the elections
The Left's prospects in the forthcoming elections will hinge in large measure on the Muslim vote. Post-Nandigram and post-Singur, a big chunk of Muslims moved to the Trinamool Congress and the Congress, making the Left Front vulnerable.
The West Bengal government’s promise to set aside 10 per cent of government jobs for Muslims, by including a majority among them in the Other Backward Castes list last year, and increasing the OBC quota in the state from 7 per cent to 17 per cent has sparked off a controversy ahead of next month’s assembly elections.
Dr. Abusaleh Shariff, Chief Economist at the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) - who was also Member, Secretary of the Sachar Committee, which had mapped the socio-economic conditions of Muslims in the country - has challenged the authenticity of this assurance.
Senior CPI-M leader and former MP Mohammed Salim, explaining the new scheme, said the state government’s new OBC list had ensured that about 85 per cent of Muslims in the state would now be categorised as OBC, and that with the old 7 per cent OBC quota, increasing to 17 per cent, and then divided into backward and most backward categories, OBCs, who are Muslim, would soon be entitled to 10 per cent of state government jobs.
Dr. Shariff told The Hindu that this promise was typical of the Left Front’s lack of “transparency when it comes to numbers and issues”. He disputed the Left Front government’s claim that 85 per cent of Muslims in West Bengal had been categorised as OBC: “Where is the population count?” He also wanted to know how in a state, “where Hindus are 75 per cent of the population, and Muslims 25 per cent, any government can possibly give 10 out of 17 per cent to Muslims?” Dr. Shariff added that if it did so, it would be “totally disastrous for integrating Muslims into the mainstream”.
Interestingly, before the West Bengal government increased the OBC quota and the number of Muslim communities in the OBC list, 8.4 per cent of Hindus in the state and 2.4 per cent of Muslims were categorised as OBCs, figures that Dr. Shariff also disputes: he believes that these numbers were deliberately kept low by the state government for political reasons. He points out that Muslims in other states were able to make advances using the OBC quotas.
In West Bengal, the condition of Muslims has always been abysmal, whether one looks at their educational levels or at the sort of loans they get from public sector banks or, in the implementation of the minority concentration district scheme, or as Dr. Shariff pointed out, their representation in the state government: while Muslims account for a quarter of the state’s population, they currently only hold 2.1 per cent of state government jobs. It is a figure, he says, that compares unfavourably with virtually all others states in the country: in Kerala, for instance, 10.4 per cent of state government jobs are held by Muslims who account for 24.7 per cent of the population.
Indeed, the Left Front’s prospects in the forthcoming West Bengal elections will hinge in large measure on the Muslim vote. Traditionally, till the assembly polls of 2006, the Left Front could depend on securing about 18 out of the 25 per cent Muslim vote in the state. Post-Nandigram and post-Singur, the situation changed radically, with a big chunk of Muslims - who dominate Nandigram and Singur - moving to the Trinamool Congress and the Congress, making the Left Front vulnerable. This has been observed in the elections since 2006, whether they were local polls or the Lok Sabha elections in 2009.
The Left Front is, therefore, leaving no stone unturned: not only has it promised state government jobs, it has fielded 57 Muslim candidates, up from 44 in the last election. Muslim voters are disenchanted with the Left Front government not merely because of the land acquisition drive to set up industries, but also because the Sachar Committee report had revealed the pathetic state of Muslims in the state. Finally, there was the mysterious death of Rizwanur Rahman, a computer graphics teacher, in Kolkata, and the alleged complicity of the police in the matter.

The Times of India : Mar 23, 2011
Bengal worse than Gujarat for Muslims?
Abantika Ghosh, TNN |, 03.39am IST

West Bengal government|Left Front|Bengal worse than Gujarat for Muslims|Abu Saleh Sheriff
Of the 25.2% Muslim population, only 2.1% have government jobs and 50% children are out of school at the primary level.

NEW DELHI: These are figures the Left Front should be wary of as it prepares to defend its citadel of 34 years in West Bengal.

An analysis of data on the Muslim community released by the chief economist of the National Council of Applied Economic Research, Abu Saleh Sheriff, reveals that the state's minority has benefited little from development measures. In terms of human development indices, the Muslims have fared very poorly.

Of the 25.2% Muslim population, only 2.1% have government jobs and 50% children are out of school at the primary level. Only 12% go on to complete matriculation. These numbers are all the more astonishing given the fact that Left swears by its secular credentials and positions itself as a protector of minority rights.

Alarm bells have already started ringing, especially after a postmortem of the Left's poor showing in the civic elections last year. An important factor which could have resulted in the dismal performance was Muslim disenchantment. In what may be viewed as the party's efforts to make amends, there is a steep 33% hike in the number of Muslim candidates fielded by Left Front. It has gone up from 42 in 2006 to 56 this time in the 292-member Assembly.

Throughout his lecture, Sheriff — who has also been the member secretary of the Sachar panel — spoke of Gujarat and West Bengal in the same breath. In fact, he used the data to project the Left-ruled state in a far worse light than the state ruled by Narendra Modi, not regarded by many as a benefactor of the minorities. And this comparison appeared all the more relevant because the West Bengal government had gone out of its way to provide shelter to Qutubuddin Ansari, the man who became the face of the post-Godhra riots with his folded hands and tearful eyes.

"If a substantial fraction of the state's 25% Muslim population have traditionally voted for the alliance it could be because of the projected gains of the land reforms even though if you look at the figures, it shows that these reforms do not seem to have made any significant difference to the living standards of the community. With the elections coming, it is time this reality is brought to the knowledge of the public," Sheriff said. He was addressing a seminar on "Relative development of West Bengal and Socio-Religious Differentials" organized by the Institute of Objective Studies at the India Islamic Cultural Cultural Centre.

Shariff's figures on education, sourced, according to him from the census database and the Planning Commission, show 50% Muslim children attend school at the primary level, 26% remain in middle school and only 12% complete matriculation against 54%, 30% and 13% respectively for SC/STs and 80%, 58% and 38% for others.

Of the 90 minority-concentrated districts in the country, West Bengal has 12. "The worst are the state government employment figures where even Gujarat with its 9.1% Muslim population and with a 5.4% share in jobs is way ahead of West Bengal which is by far the worst in the country. We had to try very hard to get these figures out from the state government because, for obvious reasons, they are very secretive about this," Shariff said.

A look at OBC statistics in Bengal shows only 2.4% of its Muslims belong to that category. This, Sheriff says, is not the real picture and simply exposes the state government's reluctance to undertake the enumeration exercise.