In the Modi Era, Scholarships Granted to Minority Students Dropped Drastically

While the target for scholarships have remained unchanged, the actual delivery has witnessed a rapid decline in both numerical and financial terms.

New Delhi: Contrary to Union Minister for Minority Affairs, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi’s claim in January this year that the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi was working towards “inclusive growth” and that “during the last about three years, about 2 crore 42 lakh minority students have been provided various scholarships”, a look at the data on the ministry’s website has revealed that the number of scholarships granted under three critical schemes has dropped drastically.

Naqvi, in a meeting in Lucknow, stated that “this year, more than 1.5 crore students have applied for pre-matric, post-matric, merit-cum-means and other various scholarships given by the Ministry of Minority Affairs”, but the ministry shows that it is these three schemes which have suffered the most in the Modi era.

Some members of parliament have also asked questions pertaining to these schemes in the ongoing Budget session. In response to a question from Dr. J, Jayavardhan, P.R. Sundaram and Supriya Sule about the details of various schemes under implementation for the welfare of minorities by the government, Naqvi had noted in his reply that his ministry was implementing programmes for the welfare of six centrally notified minorities – Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis and Jains.

He listed out 16 major schemes of which three were scholarship schemes – pre-matric scholarship scheme; post-matric scholarship scheme; and merit-cum-means based scholarship scheme – but sidestepped the details about them saying they were all available on the ministry website.

However, a look at the data for these schemes reveals that while only partial information for the first quarter of 2017-18 was available without community or gender-wise details, for the previous years too the site does not contain this break up for all the years which makes a comparative analysis difficult.

A closer scrutiny nevertheless gives away the trend, which is clearly of lower annual spending and fewer grants of scholarships. Considering that the population of the country and along with it the number of students from all communities are expected to have only grown during the last four years, it defies logic how the number of scholarships could reduce so drastically under all the three categories.

Funding almost halved for pre-matric scholarship scheme

The pre-matric scholarship scheme was, according to the ministry, aimed at encouraging parents from minority communities to send their school going children to school, lighten their financial burden on school education and sustain their efforts to support their children to complete school education.

While the scheme was to “form the foundation for their educational attainment and provide a level playing field in the competitive employment arena” as it was believed that “empowerment through education, which is one of the objectives of this scheme, has the potential to lead to upliftment of the socio economic conditions of the minority communities,” the lofty ideals were not enough to save this scheme from major financial cuts.

The data for 2014-15 showed the total beneficiaries to be 30 lakh but the “achievement” was much higher at 74.96 lakh and a total sum of Rs 1128.81 crores was under the head.

In the year 2015-16, the total scholarships stood at 51.78 lakh of which 18.40 lakh were fresh and 33.38 lakh were renewals. That year, a total sum of Rs 906.22 crore was released. While this marked a nearly 20% fall in funding, it was in terms of loss of reach that this year stood out as the number of scholarships fell by over 41 lakh.

2016-17 witnessed another sharp cut in funding as a sum of Rs 584.90 crore was sought to be disbursed marking an over 30% fall over the previous year. While during this year, the number of targeted beneficiaries was again 30 lakh, the number of students actually reached dwindled further to reach 31.14 lakh.

The data for the year 2017-18 on state or union territory wise and community wise distribution of the pre-matric scholarship scheme for students belonging to the minority communities revealed that the “community/gender wise data” had not been reconciled. According to this data the total number of beneficiaries were targeted to be 30 lakh but only about 12% of them or 3,69,549 were actually benefited in the first quarter of the fiscal till June 30, 2017.

The targeted group was supposed to comprise 21.39 lakh Muslims, 3.72 lakh Christians, 2.97 lakh Sikhs, 1.23 lakh Buddhists, 65,448 Jains and 1,030 Parsis. It goes without saying that the losses in terms of number of scholarships were largely commensurate with this ratio. For all the beneficiaries put together, a sum of Rs 63.13 crore was sanctioned.

Post-matric scholarships too landed on the chopping board

The Post-Matric Scholarship Scheme for meritorious students from minority communities was formulated as part of the Prime Minister’s New 15 Point Programme for the Welfare of Minorities announced in June, 2006.

The objective of the scheme was to award scholarships to meritorious students belonging to economically weaker sections of minority community so as to provide them better opportunities for higher education, increase their rate of attainment in higher education and enhance their employability.

But despite the scheme being so crucial for the welfare of these communities, it too witnessed a cut in funding as also the total number of scholarships.

From over-achievement to under-achievement

In financial year 2014-15 as against the target of providing post-matric scholarships to 5 lakh students, 9.05 lakh were actually covered under the scheme and paid a total sum of Rs 501.11 crore.

While the targets for the communities have more or less remained constant over the last four years, among the students who actually got the scholarships 700,248 were Muslims, 94,124 Christians, 90,342 Sikhs, 5,336 Buddhists, 15,467 Jains and 103 Parsis.

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In 2015-16, these numbers declined sharply as the total scholarships distributed fell from 9.05 lakh to 666,840 and the total amount released for them also came down by over 20% from Rs 501.11 crore to Rs 385.72 crore.

As a consequence, the community wise disbursals also fell. The number of Muslim students who got the scholarship dropped to 507,868 marking a fall of nearly 2 lakh. Likewise, in the case of Christian students the number dropped to 66,061 or by nearly 28,000; for Sikhs it came down to 71,095, marking a drop of nearly 19000 over the previous year; and for Buddhists it rose marginally by 21 to 5357; for Jains it rose slightly to 16,731 and for Parsis it fell to 28.

Cuts continued for second consecutive year

The story was more or less repeated in the year 2016-17. Though the ministry has not given out the community wise data for this year, as against the total target of 5 lakh only 486,409 students were paid scholarships totalling Rs 275.76 crore. This marked a reduction of nearly Rs 100 crores over the previous year and meant that the total number of students who were granted scholarships also dropped further by around 20,000. The year also saw the ‘achievements’ slipping below the ‘target’ in terms of total scholarships.

The situation has not shown any signs of improvement in the current fiscal as in the first quarter of 2017-18, as against a total target of distribution of scholarships to 5 lakh students, only 78,649 students had actually been provided scholarships amounting to Rs 48.36 crore.

While the community-wise data was again not available, the targets set for various communities were 3.56 lakh for Muslims, 62,156 for Christians, 49,611 for Sikhs, 20,537 for Buddhists, 10,908 for Jains and 165 for Parsis, the ministry website said.

So in the post-matric scholarships again there was a constant decline in the total beneficiaries as well as funding under the Modi regime.

Merit-cum-means scholarship scheme met similar fate

The merit-cum-means scholarship scheme, whose purpose was to provide financial assistance to the poor and meritorious students belonging to minority communities to enable them to pursue professional and technical courses, also witnessed similar cuts in scholarships and funding during this period. From benefiting more than the targeted numbers till 2014-15, the scheme underperformed in the subsequent years.

While under this scheme the target of beneficiaries has remained constant at 60,000 over the last four years and so has the number of beneficiaries from various communities – at 42794 Muslims, 7461 Christians, 5955 Sikhs, 2455 Buddhists, 1308 Jains and 17 Parsis – the overall reach of the scheme has been allowed to dwindle from over 1.38 lakh in 2014-15 to just over 85,000 in 2016-17. During this period the scholarships paid also dropped from over Rs 380 crore to less than Rs 220 crore.

How an over-achiever became a laggard

The data for 2014-15 showed that as against a target of 60,000 during the year the number of beneficiaries actually stood at more than double of that at 138,770 and a total sum of Rs 381.27 crore was sanctioned.

These scholarships were given to 97,729 Muslims, 21,975 Christians, 12,117 Sikhs, 456 Buddhists, 6,484 Jains and nine Parsis, as per the ministry website.

In the following year 2015-16 a total of 133,582 scholarships were disbursed and a sum of Rs 357.98 crore was released for them. While the data for this year is not in the target-achievement form, from the fresh and renewal cases manner in which it has been presented it can be deduced that out of the students who received these scholarships 97,077 were Muslims, 20,196 were Christians, 10,930 were Sikhs, 695 were Buddhists, 5679 were Jains and only 5 were Parsis. So the reduction in numbers was felt across communities.

When the slide was following by a slip

But it was in the subsequent year that the number of scholarships fell sharply. For this year, the ministry has not given out the community wise data but the overall figures show that as against the earlier target of 60,000 the actual number of beneficiaries dropped this year to a mere 85,788 which was nearly 48000 less than the previous year’s figure. Likewise, the sum sanctioned for scholarships also fell by nearly Rs 137 crore in comparison to the previous year to just Rs 218.60 crore.

The sliding trend has continued into the current financial year. As per the Ministry data for the first quarter of 2017-18, a target of covering 60,000 students was set. Among the targeted beneficiaries were 42,794 Muslims, 7,461 Christians, 5,955 Sikhs, 2,455 Buddhists, 1,308 Jains and 17 Parsis. A total of  4,289 students were actually provided scholarships. The sanctioned amount stood at Rs 11.18 crore.

As the analysis for all the three categories of scholarships reveals, while the target for scholarships have remained unchanged, the actual delivery has witnessed a rapid decline in both numerical and financial terms. In this light, Naqvi’s claim of 2.42 crore students being covered by the welfare schemes for minorities skips an important element – that the scholarships have been pushed into a downward spiral.