Friday, September 30, 2011

Constitution for Inclusive Policies

September 29, 2011 00:18 IST | Updated: September 29, 2011 00:21 IST

There is nothing in the Constitution which bars identification of beneficiaries of public programmes based on religion. Of late, there has been a debate on whether public programmes such as school education, scholarships, health-care
delivery and access to microcredit can be targeted at beneficiaries based on religion; some consider this ‘unconstitutional' and argue that it amounts to discrimination. I highlight the constitutional provisions and argue that there is nothing in the Constitution which bars identification of beneficiaries based on religion. Religious identity is listed on a par with race, caste, sex and place of origin, all in the same line, and these other traits are used to identify beneficiaries.

The Constitution, resolves to secure to all citizens .... ‘equality of status and of opportunity,' and directs the government to be proactive to ensure equal opportunity. Equality, equal access and equal opportunity concepts are elaborated in Articles 14 (right to equality), 15 (access to education) and 16 (public employment). The ‘... state shall not discriminate.... on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth ....' . Clause (4) of Article 15, states, “Nothing .... shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the
Scheduled Tribes.” Interestingly, ‘socially and economically backward classes (SEBC)' precedes mention of the SCs and the STs. Clause (5) directs the state to make a special provision by law for the advancement of the ‘socially and educationally backward classes' ..... through admission to educational institutions including private, aided or unaided.

Article 16 provides for equal opportunity in government employment, and cautions the state not to discriminate on the grounds of religion, race, etc..; and clause (4) provides for making provisions for reservation of appointments in favour of ‘any backward class' which .... in the opinion of the state, is not adequately represented in the services under the state. Thus, the onus of identifying a ‘backward group/class' rests with the state. All explanations of Articles 14, 15 and 16 emphasise that the group classifications should not be arbitrary, must be
compatible with the ‘objective of classification' and pre-existing inequality should not be ignored. Therefore, any group of citizens (not arbitrarily formulated), including those named in the Constitution, namely religion, race, caste,
sex, descent, and place of birth/residence should form the basis for backwardness. Backwardness can also be assessed based on occupation, workplace, age, language, etc., which are not arbitrary in nature.

The state is directed by the Constitution “to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may a social order in which justice, social, economic and political, shall inform all the institutions of the national life” [Article 38(1)]. An amendment in 1976 states “The state shall, in particular, strive to minimise the inequalities in income, and endeavour to eliminate inequalities in status, facilities and opportunities, not only amongst individuals but also amongst groups of people residing in different areas or engaged in different vocations [Article 38(2)].”Generally, the government collects and collates data for the SCs and STs; for example, to measure levels of literacy and higher education, share in state employment, etc. Similarly, multidimensional gender discrimination and regional disparities reflected from the ‘place of birth/origin/residence' are measured. One fails to understand, therefore, as to why an assessment based on ‘religion' is taboo. Therefore, the public policy view that religious comparisons in the levels of achievement in development indicators are ‘unconstitutional' appears due to a lack of understanding of the spirit and intentions of the Constitution. Religion in India is a dominant social identity next only to sex and caste and therefore, it cannot be singularly sidelined or ignored. Further, religious identity lends itself to a double whammy. Studies show unacceptably large compounding effects of sex, age and regional discrimination interacting with those linked to religion. Muslim and Dalit women (children)living in less developed States are the most excluded of all types of socio-religious groups in India.

Empirical evidence is essential to developmental knowledge. It is reassuring that modern empirical and econometric methodologies accurately estimate and identify the characteristics of backwardness. Caste and religion stand out as dominant social identities of backwardness along with occupation (source of household income), residential and regional identities. Empirical analysis of process indicators (literacy, higher level education, formal employment, access to banking and credit, political participation, etc.) according to religious communities excluding Hindus,
confirm Muslim placement below the line of average. If the SCs/STs are singled out and compared with religious groups, one finds Muslims in most of the measures about the same or even lower. With adjustments for initial conditions, the conditions of Muslims relative to the SCs/STs have worsened over the years. Such evidence suggests
that policies and programmes of the national and State governments are less accessible to Muslims, to the extent that they can be labelled as discriminatory.
Applying the standards set by the Constitution, one can argue the existence of a systemic bias based on religion. The only way to eliminate such bias is to ensure equal opportunity and access to programmes which generate benefits proportional to the size of the population. Naming programmes specific to the deprived community even if has to be done by caste and religious identity must be the public choice. It is clear that there is no catch-22 situation as has often been made out to be and it is not even ‘unconstitutional.' Since the Constitution grants the state the responsibility of identifying ‘backward communities,' it is the bounden duty of the national and State governments to bring the caste and religious communities facing exclusion especially the Muslims, into the fold of mainstream policies and programmes as recommended by the Sachar Committee report. Note that Article 25, while setting the parameters of the right to freedom of religion, has named selected religions to bring a certain degree of clarity as to what constitute the Hindus; and this Article does not preclude naming Muslims and Christians (two large religious communities) in public documents and legal enactments.

(The writer is with the Centre for Research and Debates in Development Policy, New Delhi. He was Member-Secretary, ‘Prime Minister's High Level Committee on Muslims in India' — 2005-06, and Adviser, ‘National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution' — 2001-02.)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Economic Times: Primitive tribes: Away from development


Primitive tribes: Away from development

About 9% of the country's population comprises scheduled tribes, with over 700 communities, of which 75 are 'primitive tribal groups'. Yet, we found on a number of field trips to Andhra Pradesh, conditions among scheduled and primitive tribes differ according to policy whims, and little else.

In a village in Vijanagaram district, we found two distinct tribes living side by side: Kondavara, a scheduled tribe, and Savara, a primitive tribe. The Kondavara reported some cultivation rights over half an acre to three acres of rain-fed land on hilly terrain but with no clear land title. But all 81 households were covered under the NREGS with Rs 100 as wage, and worked on land improvement on their plantations cooperatively. They worked for wages in the nearby plains and participated in market exchange.

The Savara, being a 'primitive tribe', were under the Integrated Tribal Development Authority (ITDA). They were provided with employment on daily fixed wages to work in the forest, but only for a few days in a year. According to the Savaras, the NREGS wages offered worked out to less than Rs 20 per day and they were disillusioned with that.

The private wage this community got in the village was as low as Rs 70 for men and Rs 40 for women. They reared small ruminants and cattle. Savaras rarely travelled to other areas and their marriage linkages were found to be within a 10-km range amongst their own tribe. Although some land on the hills was assigned to them, they did not report clear ownership and the land could not support cereals. The scheduled tribe also occupied better, plain terrain for their homes. The primitive tribals lived on rocky hill slopes in rudimentary dwellings.

Exactly opposite trends were noted on a visit to a tribal village cluster in Prakasam district, a resettlement of the primitive Chenchus, Yerakala and Sugali, and to another cluster of non-primitive communities. The ITDA could provide one acre of land to about half of the resettled primitive families and also semi-finished single-room residential quarters, but without kitchen and toilet.

The resettlement had drinking water and electricity. Men undertook bamboo-cutting and honey collection under government programmes, women also collected minor forest produce like medicinal herbs and roots. This settlement was serviced by a Girjan Society that purchased the forest produce for a given price, and were also covered under the public distribution system. We also found girls and boys educated and trained to become teachers, but with without any jobs. The neighbouring settlement was occupied by non-primitive inhabitants living there for long. This was bereft of facilities and services available to the resettlement. Women here were not allowed to collect the minor forest produce, therefore they made baskets.

The men got some bamboo on the sly from the forest. Many were in police custody for having done so. Neither state agencies nor the ITDA had covered this settlement for the provisioning of welfare schemes, and programmes like NREGS and SHGs were absent. To my understanding, this bunch of 23 households lived a highly-vulnerable and deprived life.

In the first example, primitive tribes were found to be extremely vulnerable compared to non-primitive groups. In the second case, it was the non-primitive group that was found to be on the verge of penury.

This is due to shortcomings in policy implementation. How, why and who make these differentiations between the communities and for what purpose is not very clear. However, in the first example, the freedom and choice that the non-primitive group had, to travel and visit the plains for work and market had empowered them.

In the second example, since the primitive groups were resettled from within the forest, they were showered with benefits, while the original dwellers in the same location were left to fend for themselves. Overall, the ST areas suffer from a lack of services like education, health and employment. Even tribal hostels for girls did not have running water and adolescent girls were seen using brooks and streams nearby for bathing and washing.

While qualified girls and boys belonging to primitive tribes remain unemployed, all government functionaries including teachers were nontribals, commuting from the plains to work. They were seen travelling daily to work on modern motorcycles. It was also found that many inaccessible locations are bereft of institutions and personnel.

These are areas covered under the 'Schedule 5' policy established in 1950, directly overseen by the Governor of the state with the help of 'tribal advisory councils'. The tribals are easy to identify and live in clusters of their own and policies to effect group equity should be easy to implement.

But the reality is otherwise. The government seems to be running an enterprise with bonded primitive tribal groups that can be subject to 'bonded labour laws'. It also appears that in the name of protecting these communities, opportunities are denied for them to access the fruits of modern development.

(The author is chief economist at the National Council of Applied Economic Research. Views are personal)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Indian Express | Muslims now worse off

Seema Chishti Posted online: Thu Sep 08 2011, 03:18 hrs
New Delhi : Dr Abu Saleh Shariff is an angry man these days. The economist and former member-secretary of the Prime Minister’s high-level committee on social, educational and economic status of Muslims, which submitted its report five years ago, is annoyed that the government has squandered opportunities provided by Justice Rajinder Sachar Report and not put in place a proper assessment and monitoring system.
He claims to have written to the PM and the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission last month on issues ignored by the Centre.

An independent study conducted by Shariff is set to reveal next month that on certain crucial variables Muslims are “worse off compared to other social groups”.

“This holds true for a very key factor like school enrolment ratios. While the number of children in school has gone up for all communities, for Muslims the figure is worryingly lower than when we gave the Sachar report.”

Shariff has been excluded from the Planning Commission’s committee for assessment and monitoring (reconstituted in the year 2010 and headed jointly by Syeda Hameed and Narendra Jadhav).

The previous assessment and monitoring committee had Shariff and M A Basith, both members of the Sachar Committee, on board.

The new committee, says Shariff, “has no one competent to take on the government data and ask questions”.

Reacting to Shariff’s complaints that he has been “unceremoniously” shown the door, Syeda Hameed said: “The changes were made last year and we have met thrice since then. We sent out thank-you letters to all outgoing members.” But Shariff denies this.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Economic Times

Economic Times | New Delhi | 6 SEP, 2011, 04.42AM IST, ABANTIKA GHOSH,TNN
PM urged to review Sachar panel's recommendations

NEW DELHI: Having been "unceremoniously" removed from the assessment and monitoring authority of the Planning Commission, Abusaleh Shariff, member secretary of the Sachar Committee, has drawn Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's attention to review the Sachar recommendations. The path-breaking report on the state of Muslims in the country was submitted about five years ago.

A miffed Shariff said the authority met only thrice in four years, did not consider implementing the report and has been bereft of any independent technical person despite the recent revamp.

Shariff's note to the PM was sent about 10 days ago. He has since met Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia to discuss the note's content.

Of late, there have been many indictments of mode of implementation of the Sachar report. The parliamentary standing committee on social justice and employment too had found fault with it, and had said that the ministry of minority affairs was not addressing the root of the problems highlighted in the report. It had suggested that the government should bring a law to ensure time-bound implementation.

Sachar member Rakesh Basant had written an article faulting the implementation as had Harsh Mander of the centre for equity studies. Mander had said the government shied away form branding schemes for the Muslims fearing BJP's appeasement slur, but in the process was blunting its intent. The UPA-II had dismissed Mander's report as riddled with factual inaccuracies.

Shariff's note highlighted the government's reluctance in setting up the equal opportunity commission (EOC), estimate share of flows to minority beneficiaries in major flagship programmes with separate data for Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Zoroastrians and measure diversity in public institutes of excellence like IIM, IIT, AIIMS etc. Shariff has pointed out that banking and credit, community based polytechnics and enrolment and school continuation are the sectors that are in dire need of assessment and monitoring.

"Most alarming is that the overall shares of Muslims in matric and higher education have improved the least compared with all socio-religious categories between 2004-05 and 2009-10. This has happened along with the lowest base level for Muslims compared with other communities. Urban areas where relatively larger percentage of Muslims lives, the share in higher education has declined during this period," the note says.

Shariff says that in the last two years he wrote several times to the ministry of minority affairs highlighting these issues and the need for a review. "That did not yield any results, which is why I was forced to take the issue up with the Prime Minister and the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission," he says.

On the reconstitution of the Planning Commission body, he says: "I was summarily removed from the assessment and monitoring authority without my knowledge. The authority, which was supposed to monitor implementation of the Sachar recommendations, did not initiate any noteworthy action in the four years that it was in existence. Absence of an independent technical person will seriously impede its working."

Planning Commission member Syeda Hameed is the chairperson of the 29-member authority which, apart from secretaries in various ministries, includes Dr Yogendra Yadav, Soli Sorabjee, Shabnam Hashmi, Akhtarul Wassey etc.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Suggested Amendments to the Communal Violance Bill


Section 20 of the Bill sets the rules to set up and constitute a National Authority for Communal Harmony, Justice and Reparation so as to exercise the powers and perform the functions assigned to it under the Act. Sub-section (3) of Section 20 specifies:

20(3): “The National Authority shall consist of a Chairperson, a Vice Chairman and five other members.

Provided that, at all times, not less than four members, including the Chairperson and Vice Chairperson, shall belong to a group as defined under this Act.

Provided further that, at all times, there shall be:

1. One member belonging to Scheduled caste/Scheduled tribes;
2. Four women, whether Chairperson, Vice Chairperson or member;

Provided further that, at all times, one woman, whether Chairperson, Vice Chairperson or member, shall belong to a religious or linguistic minority.

Provided further that, all times, not more than two members, including the Chairperson and Vice Chairperson, shall be retired public servants.”

From the above provisions, it is clear that out of seven members; only one member shall belong to the religious or linguistic minority. Thus, the very constitution of the National Authority is lopsided and imbalanced. Past experiences show that religious minorities like Muslims, Christians and Sikhs have been the victims of the communal and targeted violence. Linguistic minorities have hardly faced communal and targeted violence excepting a few incidences in the southern parts of India. Moreover, linguistic minorities have been identified on the basis of their distinct language and on regional basis.

Though not mentioned, but this ACT is being enacted to protect religious minorities especially the three named above from the wrath of communal violence; but it is surprising that their representation in the National Authority has not been assured. In effect there can be a situation under the current provisions, that none of the seven members belong to any of the major religious minorities such as the Muslims, the Christians and the Sikhs.

It is appropriate to mention that while this law should primarily be meant for the protection of religious minorities, yet there is merit in having representatives from the SCs/STs communities.

However, to remove the anomaly currently inherent in Section 20 of the draft ACT the following suggestion must be incorporated:

Suggestion: In order to make the National Authority a representative and effective body, it is necessary to give due representation to main religious minorities, viz, the Muslims, the Christians and the Sikhs. Section 20 (3) may therefore be amended accordingly to the effect the Muslim, the Christian and the Sikh community is represented with at least one member each on the National Authority. Any of such members can also hold the position as chairperson and as vice chairperson. Such representatives from the minority religious groups must be a woman at least during the alternate functional period of the National Authority.