Friday, December 9, 2011

Nation Building through Inclusive and Equity Policies

At the outset, it is essential to emphasize the fact that the minorities such as the Muslims, Christians and the Sikhs cherish and maintain aspirations and seek opportunities for development similar to any other community in India. The Sachar Committee report prepared at the instance of the Indian Prime Minister was made public in November 2006, a long five years age. After accepting the report a number of major announcements were also made, the Ministry of Minority Affaires was pressed to undertake minority/Muslim favoring programs. Other committees were formulated and reports submitted to understand the scope and functioning of ‘equal opportunity commission’ and finalize a methodology to prepare ‘diversity index’ in educational, employment, bank credit and urban living spaces. Yet a recent empirical review suggests minorities especially the Muslims lagging practically in all spheres of development including education, employment, income and assets.

Efforts of both the center and state governments to overcome Muslim deprivation across India were picked up in isolation, as opposed to systemic policy shifts which were suggested in the Sacher committee report. For example, funding allocations for post- and pre-matric scholarships were made but the implementation mechanism was not assigned to the ‘human resources’ ministry rather the minority ministry was made to implement the same. The minority ministry does not have the benefit of adequate funding and implementative structure and staff. Similarly, the issue of educational deprivation of Muslims has been reduced to notional program in promotion of Urdu and modernization of madrasas; while the requirement is to establish regular secular schools imparting modern education at elementary and high levels in Muslims dominant mohallas, towns and villages; affirmative action policies to ensure access to higher level education provided by public and private universities across India. Similarly, the credit needs for the businesses and entrepreneurship development is expected to be promoted by ‘minority development corporations’ rather than from the regular banking channels under the priority sector advances schemes. It is the national level regular banking structure which manages development funds and the ‘special purpose vehicles’ are a failure and waste of time and money.

A quick review of programs, new initiatives and the associated outcomes suggest little improvement during the last 5 years since the submission of the Sachar report. There are, therefore, compulsive reasons to strive for durable changes, firstly a recognition that deprivation amongst the minorities exists due to systemic causes which can be set right only through broad based public policy initiatives, not entirely through special purpose vehicles such as the minority/Muslim/Christian oriented programs; rather assisting them to strive to access their share within the mainstream from the regular ministries, departments and programs of government of India and many major states.

India through the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendment has made a strong socio-political statement of its arrival as a matured democracy, championing multi-layer decentralized governance, sharing substantial powers and national pool of resources with the States. Further, the enduring cannons of governance and economic development are grounded in principals of socialism, inclusiveness and secularism and fully conscious of regional imbalance given a large expanse of the Indian nation. India probably is a rare example of pluralism, with multi-dimensional cultural and social groupings, language, race, region and not the least religion; in short rich in diversity and decentralized governance is essential to promote inclusiveness. Such efforts are essential, they do create enabling environment and a level playing field, yet the positive results embedded in resource allocation, process and outcome measures are hard to come by.

Like other main communities of India, the deprived minority and social groups should be able to pursue social, economic and educational aspirations within the frame and support of government provided infrastructure, opportunities and political awakening. One should expect ‘diversity’ - the diversity natural to our population get reflected in the public spheres such as in educational institutions, public and organized sector employment, political system and governance structures at all levels. Yet, in spite of the fact that practically all social, educational and economic spheres of living are governed, regulated and implemented by the States; one would find substantial (often unacceptable level) differences between varied social groups and across states. Such differentials are prominent in spite of special constitutional provisions bestowed upon the minorities since the Independence; as discussed above.
Over 230 million citizens, about 20% of all Indians are categorized as minorities and they reside across all parts of India. Muslims are the largest (80%) of all identified minorities and about 14% followed by Christians about 3% of the country’s population. Minorities reside in substantial numbers and proportions in states such as Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, UP and Bihar, Gujarat, Maharashtra and in the seven sister states of the North-east. In terms of the welfare of the minorities, there are examples and best practices found within India. Consider the states of Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, all have devised policies favoring Muslims at two levels. (a) Along with all others, the Muslims have relatively better access to quality mass education (both elementary and higher level) and employment; and (b) given the history of relative deprivation of the Muslims the state policy have extended the benefit of reservations in a certain measure of fractional-proportions linked to their size and share in population. Such quotas are enabling the Muslim girls and boys to catch up with their peers amongst the Hindus and Christians, both in education and employment. Similar provisions will enable Muslims to participate even in the political spaces; and Andhra Pradesh has made a beginning by promoting a system of ‘co-option’ or ‘nomination’ system to the Mandals (sub-taluka), Zila Parishads and Municipalities/Nagar Panchayets (AP Panchayat Act 2006).

But a number of states especially in the northern part of India, and at the level of the nation not such beneficial policies have yet been formulated, excepting in the guise of Mandal Commission, where the quota system is not well articulated and the benefits to minorities and Muslims are minimal. Maintaining diversity in public spheres is essential. When this does not happen naturally, it has to be made to happen through government intervention. Legislation can be one way; and the mechanism is to remind the government and the institutions that ensuring diversity is their responsibility; the state should have done it in the first place. Diversity can be assured in India by offering incentives/credits to government departments, institutions, universities, panchayats, PSU and so on. The most recent announcement to earmark a 6% quota within the OBC quota for the Muslim community will not yield more than 60,000 jobs at category ‘D’ and ‘C’ (lowly paid) while the requirement is over one million new jobs for Muslims alone across India.

Another mechanism is to provide institutional access to all deprived citizens (including religious minorities) and to ensure ‘Equity’ in public sphere. In spite of a plethora of public institutions in existence, systemic discrimination or bias seems to have occurred in case of the minorities and therefore establishing an ‘Equal Opportunity Commission’ will go a long way both to ensure diversity as a key state objective, and it can also function as an institution to enforce redressal.

The national government has made some efforts during the past 3-4 years to address various aspects of Muslim deprivation; especially after the Sachaer Committee report was presented to the national government. Broadly under the revised 15-point program, a special investment program in about 100 minority (includes substantial Christian and Muslim populations) concentration districts (MCD); exclusive scholarships are announced for the first time to cover minorities both in elementary and higher levels of education. The RBI is consistently sending memos to the public sector banks to increase funding to the applicants from the minorities and so on. However, a review of all the above programs suggest, that the MCD program has not even made presence in many states such as West Bengal, Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand and Gujarat. The overall utilization is less than 20% of the total funds earmarked to this program since inception. Similarly the scholarship program although very popular is able to cover only a fraction of total applicants; and it appears that the public sector banks have not even taken a note of the repeated requests make by the RBI which is a matter of utmost concern.

The larger malice of exclusion has to be fought unitedly by all ‘regular-line departments’ and Ministries at the national and State levels. It also needs collaboration and partnership with civil society and private institutional structures. How will a separate Ministry ensure the implementation of more than 300 programs that aim to alleviate poverty and improve human development which will promote inclusiveness of the excluded, whether they be Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes or Muslims?

Concluding Remarks:

Empirical evidence is essential to developmental knowledge. It is reassuring that modern empirical and econometric methodologies accurately estimate and identify characteristics of backwardness. Caste and religion stands 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 the 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 years. Such evidence suggests that policies and programs of the national and state governments are less accessible to Muslims, to the extent that they can be labeled as discriminatory.

Applying the standards set by the Indian constitution one can argue existence of systemic bias based on religion. The only way to eliminate such bias is to ensure equal opportunity and access to program which generate benefits proportional to the size of the population. Naming programs 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 often made out to be and it is not even ‘unconstitutional’. Since the Indian constitution grants the State the responsibility of identifying the ‘backward communities’, it is bounden duty of national and State governments that the caste and religious communities facing exclusion especially the Muslims, are brought into the fold of mainstream policies and programs 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. Thus two pronged policies for growth and national interest are essential: (a) an inclusive economic penetration and (b) a social framework which promotes equity and participation.

In the absence of any time-line, program-specific implementative strategy and clarity with respect to monitoring tools and mechanisms, no results will be forthcoming. It is important to mention that a flat policy of earmarking 15 per cent of budgetary allocations to favour the minorities is not implementable. Rather, the service delivery procedures must use population shares at the “program specified operational levels” such as the district, taluka and block levels so as to ensure maximum coverage and provide a sense of equity. The early euphoria and expectations are dying out. The UPA -1 took many initiatives to dissect and diagnose the problem, and UPA -2 must ensure that inclusive policies are actually implemented before the people at large become disappointed. I only hope this does not lead to frustration.