For Religious Minorities, Budget 2018 Fails to Live up to Promise of 'Achhe Din'

Data from the ministry of minority affairs show that Muslims constitute 72% of the total minority population, but only account for 45% in terms of total credit flow.

Finance minister Arun Jaitley. Credit: Reuters

Finance minister Arun Jaitley. Credit: Reuters

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government rode to power in 2014, riding on promises such as reducing corruption and generating meaningful employment opportunities for all. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) election manifesto also included assurances on tackling inflation (especially food inflation), reducing inequality and pushing the economy on a higher growth path.

Close to completion of four years of its five-year term, on February 1, the NDA government led by BJP has presented its last full Budget in the backdrop of economic slowdown, rural distress and rising employment in the country, in stark contrast to all the grand promises that it had made.

The two big reforms implemented by this NDA government, namely, demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax, have been highly disruptive for the growth of the economy, and in that context, many had expected that this year’s Budget would try to address the problems.

However, Budget 2018 instead delivered several announcements – regarding agriculture and rural infrastructure development, assurances of generating employment opportunities in the formal sector, providing quality healthcare for the underprivileged and senior citizens and improving the provisions for education. Most of these announcements are not backed by adequate budgetary provision and framework for implementation. Total public spending, too, has been showing a declining trend for the past few years.

For the NDA government, the most favoured ministry seems to be Road Transport and Highways, which continues to be accorded high priority in the Budget with its allocation jumping from Rs 33,048 crore in 2014-15 to Rs 71,000 crore in 2018-19 (BE). The rural development ministry’s total allocation has increased from Rs 69,817 crore in 2014-15 to Rs 1,14,915 crore in 2018-19 (BE); but overall allocation to it has stagnated over the last two Union Budgets.

In fact, where the NDA government’s priorities really lie is evident from the paltry allocation for 17 selected ministries that are part of the social sector. The total allocation for these ministries, as compared to the total Union Budget accounts for 26% in 2017-18 (RE) as well as in 2018-19 (BE), shows the low priority accorded by the NDA government to making public provision for the marginalised communities, such as scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, women, children and religious minorities.

Also read: For the Social Sector, Budget 2018 a Cause for Caution Rather Than Celebration

In his joint address to parliament on day one of the Budget session, President Ramnath Kovind, with regard to religious minorities, said:

“Government is committed to “Empowerment and not Appeasement”, and my Government is making intensive efforts for economic, social and educational empowerment of the minorities”.

However, NITI Aayog’s report states that “Muslims constitute the largest religious minority and lag behind others in terms of economic, health and education parameters. The participation of Muslims in salaried jobs is also low. Muslim workers are largely concentrated in the informal sector which is characterised by low wages, poor working conditions and little or no social security.”

Let’s look at how religious minorities have fared in terms of policy priority. The 11th and 12th five-year Plans – through their core approach of ‘faster and inclusive growth’ – had adopted a four-pronged strategy for the development of minorities – educational and economic empowerment, access to public services, strengthening of minority institutions and area development programme.

In 2006, the cabinet gave its approval for revamping the then UPA-II Prime Minister’s 15-Point Programme for the Welfare of Minorities (15 PP), which covered 15 different areas for economic and social development. However, the 15 PP does not cover key Union government ministries like agriculture, commerce and industry, trade and small and medium enterprises, which are critical for the development of minorities.

The Union cabinet decided that 15% of the funds and physical targets may be earmarked wherever possible in the relevant ongoing general sector schemes/programmes for the nationally declared minorities. Two important commitments were made under 15 PP – the department of personnel and training’s promise to ensure 15% share in public employment and the department of financial services’ target to disburse 15% of the annual priority sector lending (PSL) to favour minorities.

In addition to 15 PP, a new area development strategy, namely the Multi-Sectoral Development Programme (MsDP) was designed in 2008 to address the shortfalls in basic amenities, education and employment in the minority-concentrated areas. All the schemes run by the ministry of minority affairs (MoMA) and department of school education and literacy are also part of 15 PP, which are meant completely for the development of minorities.

Looking at the total allocation, it may be noted that only 0.49% of the total 2016-17 Budget had been earmarked for the development of minorities – religious minorities constitute 21% of total population as per Census 2011. In fact, the total expenditure reported for minorities by the Centre through 15 PP and MSDP has shown a declining trend since 2012-13.

Budgetary allocation and fund utilisation by minority affairs ministry

Although the budget allocation for MoMA has increased by 12%, the fund utilisation has declined from 97.8% in 2015-2016 to 74%. This has affected the implementation of MsDP and scholarship programmes. Under MsDP, there has been a low achievement in physical outcomes across components. The water supply, housing and income-generating infrastructure have a poor completion rate against the units sanctioned under the MsDP project, and many activities under it have not even begun.

The MoMA being a nodal ministry is currently running many schemes related to education empowerment, skill development and livelihood, special programmes for minorities and area development programmes like MSDP. The budgetary allocation has increased marginally in the MsDP and some of the scholarship programmes like the merit-cum-means scholarship, post-matric scholarship, free coaching, Maulana Azad Education Foundation, skill development initiatives (Rs 250 crore) and Nai Manzil (Rs 140 crore). Pre-matric scholarship and NMDFC have shown a decline in the budgetary allocation in 2018-19 (Table 1).

Table 1: Scheme-wise allocation for Ministry of Minority Affairs (Rs crore)

Schemes 2014-15 (A) 2015-16 (A) 2016-17 (A) 2017-18 (RE) 2018-19(BE)
Maulana Azad Foundation 113 113 114 113.01 125
Merit Cum Means Scholarships 381.3 315 220 393.54 522
Free Coaching 31.3 44.8 40 48 153
Pre Matric Scholarships 1128.8 1015.7 369.25 1001.15 980
Post Matric Scholarships 501.3 552.8 287 561.29 692
Maulana Azad Fellowship 0.12 55.5 120 150 153
NMDFC 30 120 140 170 165.02
MSDP 768.2 1120.7 1082 1200 1319.98
Skill Development Initiatives 46 192 205 200 250
Nai Manzil 0 0 118 95 140

Source: Compiled by CBGA from Union Budget documents, various years.

Problems in implementation

Many research studies, including the NITI Aayog Action Agenda (2017), have found several gaps in public policies meant for minorities, such as inadequate budgets, inappropriate policy design and weak implementation that come in the way of the poor receiving the desired level of benefits.

As for the key policy initiatives after the Sachar Committee Report (2005), such as setting up a National Data Bank, an Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) and constructing a diversity index aimed at promoting inclusion of excluded communities including Muslims in public institutions, although the reports of working groups on setting up of an EOC and constructing a diversity index have been submitted, no headway has been made in terms of actual implementation so far.

The data on status of recruitment of minorities (in central government, public sector undertakings, banks, etc) collated by MoMA shows their percentage stood at 6.24%, 6.91%, 7.89%, 8.56% and 7.5%, respectively, in the five years from 2011-12 to 2015-16. This clearly reflects that after ten years of implementation of 15 PP, the minorities have not been given a fair share in recruitment. Further, there is no disaggregated data on religious minorities on recruitment, especially in the present reporting format provided by MoMA.

Also read: Budget 2018: The Finance Ministry’s Grey Shades of ‘Pink’

The government has, however, claimed that employment opportunities have been provided to the youth belonging to Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, Parsi and Jain communities through programmes such as Seekho Aur Kamao, Usttad, Garib Nawaz Kaushal Vikas Yojana, Nai Roshni etc. More than 45 lakh students have also benefitted from scholarships, fellowships, skill development and coaching schemes during the last one year.

MoMA data on financial inclusion of minorities claims that the percentage of PSL going to minorities has steadily increased from 10.6% in 2007-08 to 15.4% as on March 31, 2017. Also, the community-wise flow under PSL during 2016-17 stood at: Muslims (45.48%), Sikhs (23.90%), Christians (20.24%), Jains (6.32%), Buddhists (2.39%) and Parsis (1.67%). The data clearly shows that Muslims constitute 72% of the total minority population, but only account for 45% in terms of total credit flow. Several field-based studies have found that in rural areas, access to credit by Muslims is negligible due to several reasons.

Possible inclusions in Budget

That the minorities have not been included in the budgetary processes by the Union government is, therefore, quite evident.

  • The Budget should have include minorities in the budgetary processes by opening a minor head in the detailed budget books and introducing a budget statement on minority-related programmes based on the strategy of implementation of SCSP and TSP.
  • The unit costs of scholarships should have been revised from the existing level. Currently, Rs 1,000 per annum under the pre-matric scholarship is allocated for each student of the minority community (day scholar) which is insufficient, especially if we take the rate of inflation into account.
  • The Budget should have undertaken initiatives in MsDP that are need-based instead of adopting a ‘topping up’ approach in the existing centrally-sponsored schemes covered under the 15 PP. Secondary and senior secondary residential schools need to be established and made functional in minority concentrated blocks by MoMA itself.
  • Many students are not able to submit online application forms in scholarship programmes in rural areas due to poor internet connectivity and lack of electricity. The Budget should have given the option of manual submission along with online application.

Further, the policy gaps and other social, communal and discriminatory factors may be mutually exclusive in preventing Muslims from getting access to the desired level of development benefits. To address the issues of communal violence in the country, as per the guideline of 15 PP, ‘The Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, 2005’ was introduced in the Rajya Sabha in 2005 but was not passed. Subsequently, a new Bill was proposed for the discussion in the Rajya Sabha in 2014. However, the introduction of Bill was deferred and has not been taken up so far by the current government.

Jawed Alam Khan works with CBGA and is an advisor to Institute of Policy Studies and Advocacy, New Delhi.