People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 11

March 11, 2012




Reality Bites after Five Years of Sachar Recommendations


Moinul Hassan


THE constitution of India has clearly stated that the state will not have an official religion and that every person has the right to preach, practice and propagate any religion that they choose. Quite interestingly, though, the word secularism has never been used in the Indian context as it has been in western countries where secularism necessarily and predominantly means the separation of the church and the state. Be that as it may, the objectives of inclusion of the word secular in our constitution have not yet been achieved even though the seeds of secularism in our country were laid before the lines of partition were drawn. The minorities in our country have for long been in a pitiable state and the picture is not a healthy one even after the passage of about six decades of independence.


India’s religious minorities, as per the National Commission for Minorities Act 1992, constitute about 18.4 per cent of the total Indian population. They amounted to 189.5 million souls as per the census of 2001. Of these, the largest are the Muslim minorities, amounting 72.8 per cent of the total minority population. The Muslims in India amounted to 13.4 per cent of the total population or nearly 140 million people.


It was in 2005 that a high-level committee chaired by Justice Rajender Sachar was constituted to look into the condition of the Muslims, the largest of the religious minorities in India. The constitution of the committee was definitely a welcome step but, unfortunately, the government displayed lack of political will and courage when the question of implementing the Sachar committee’s recommendations came up.


The National Advisory Council (NAC) was constituted in 2004 to provide legislative and policy inputs to the government, with special focus on the rights of the disadvantaged groups. It comprises experts in several fields.




The Sachar committee drew the nation’s attention to and categorically pointed out the development deficits in case of the majority of Muslim people in the spheres of education, livelihoods and access to public services. It recorded low school enrolments and high dropouts, even more for boys than for girls. The report mentioned poverty to be the main impediment to imparting of education to the Muslims. It stated that as children were made to work in order to support their families and hence the question of their going to school was naturally given secondary importance.


Among other problems were the non-availability of good quality government schools in Muslim majority areas; residential hostels and exclusive girls schools were still fewer. While the literacy rate amongst Muslims is 59 per cent, only 4 per cent of them have access to higher education as against the national average of 7 per cent.


It was also found that 40 per cent of the large villages with a substantial Muslim concentration do not have any medical facilities. The ratio of workers to population is lower for the Muslims than others. A large number of the Muslim population is self-employed.


Of late, the policies of economic liberalisation have sounded the death knell for many traditional occupations of Muslims, such as handlooms and powerlooms, silk and sericulture, etc. Home based industries like embroidery, zari and chikan work, which used to provide Muslim women stable though low incomes, are also struggling for survival. The share of Muslims in government and private employment is 23 per cent and 6.5  per cent, less than even for the scheduled castes (39 per cent) and scheduled tribes (9.5 per cent). Their average salary is also very low. The Muslims have very little access to bank credit.


When a group of members of parliament met the prime minister with the demand of allocation of sufficient funds in the 12th Five Year Plan for the development of minority communities, the latter assured them that there was not dearth of funds. But it was only in November 2011 that the NAC came up with a set of recommendations for improving during the 12th plan the current dismal situation of minorities in the country. These aimed at improving the existing government programmes and schemes such as the PM’s 15 point programme for welfare of minorities and the multi-sectoral development programme.




Now that five years have elapsed since Justice Sachar submitted his report, we find that the PM’s 15 point programme in doldrums. We also see that the scale of government interventions has been too inadequate to make any significant changes in the life of the minorities. Their deprivation continues.


Secondly, the programmes lack imagination and clarity. They are incapable of identifying and overcoming the impediments to the Muslim people’s access to educational or economic opportunities. The very important question of access to public services, too, is not being addressed. Finally, the institutional structures designed to implement these initiatives --- right from the union ministry of minority affairs to the implementing officials at district headquarters and below --- lack conviction and even a clear mandate to directly fight out the structured socio-economic discriminations. Also, the positive mindset to address the denial mode encountered by the community is lacking to a great extent.


The budgetary allocations for programmes are extraordinarily low though they, surprisingly, claim to reverse the grave socio-economic deprivations of a disadvantaged community. The per capita plan allocation of resources for minorities in 2010-11 was a paltry Rs 797, even below the figures for STs (Rs 1521) and SCs (Rs 1228).


Though the religious minorities, including Muslims, constitute 18.4 per cent of the population, the allocations for schemes designed for them is a little over 5 per cent of the total plan allocation. The nodal agency, the ministry of minority affairs, received a plan allocation of only Rs 2600 crore for 2010-11. This includes budgets of flagship Multi-Sectoral Development Programme (MSDP) for districts with large concentrations of Muslim population. Still more disappointingly, the bulk of these low allocations too are barely used. The utilisation of MSDP funds for 2010-11 was a mere 22 per cent by the middle of the third quarter for the whole country. Such poor spending is a result of the poor design of programmes and weak institutional mechanisms.


In response to the Sachar findings, the MSDP identified 90 districts in which Muslims constitute 25 per cent of the total population or more. Officials in these districts are required to prepare area development programmes, mostly for augmenting the infrastructure. This task too suffers from serious neglect in Muslim dominated villages, hamlets or urban settlements. So, even if the money from this modestly funded programme is being spent in districts with higher proportions of Muslims, it is mostly found that the selected programmes are neither located in nor benefit the Muslim areas.




The Sachar committee identified employment as a major area of concern for Muslims. It noted that the worker-population ratio for Muslims is significantly lower than for other disadvantaged communities, especially in rural areas. Muslims are disproportionately represented in self-employment activities and in urban areas. Large segments of Muslim women are engaged in home-based work.


The committee also noted the widespread deprivation of Muslims with regard to assets and skills, and their poor access to credit and employment opportunities. The government’s main instrument to improve employment prospects and create jobs is the 15 point programme, stressing easier and better access to credit and skill development opportunities for Muslim youth through Industrial Training Institutes, among other things. The MSDP is about possible targeted interventions.


However, the funds earmarked for minorities in South 24 Parganas (West Bengal) and Darbhanga (Bihar) under the Swarnajayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana  were just under Rs 2 crore and Rs 4 crore respectively. However, the BPL households in these districts were about 1.5 lakh and 80,000 households respectively. It means that, for example, in South 24 Parganas, employment for 100 days a year under the MGNREGA could be provided to only 10,110 job seekers from the minority communities, whereas the total number of minority job cardholders in the district in 2008-09 was 2.2 lakh. To put this inadequacy in perspective, the outlay earmarked for the SC/STs, under SGSY was 50 per cent of the total, irrespective of the BPL population therein.


Much of these failures can be attributed to supply side factors. These include poor resourcing (only token allocations) of interventions; still poorer utilisation of funds; poor design of schemes and projects with activities not mapped on the specific needs of Muslims; and poorly developed or weak institutional arrangements at the district and lower levels, including those for reporting of achievements.


In 2001, the government launched the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) to universalise elementary education. The SSA has resulted in significant expansion of elementary education in the country, with enrolment shooting up to 89 per cent. But the educational attainment of the Muslims remains a challenge. The Sachar committee’s estimate of literacy rate amongst Muslims (59 per cent) is 11 per cent lower than for other disadvantaged communities except the SC-STs. Clearly, increase in Muslims’ literacy is not fast enough to bring them on a par with other groups. To add to the worry, the percentage of Muslim children who never attended school or dropped out was 25 per cent, higher than that for other disadvantaged communities. Availability of schools in Muslim majority areas was poor. The Sachar committee noted the absence of primary schools in over a thousand such villages in many parts of the country.


As far as the choice of interventions for educational uplift of Muslims is concerned, the thrust under both the MSDP and 15 point programme is on creating further infrastructure to fill the gap in provision of schools and associated facilities. But as there are no disaggregated financial data for Muslims in regard to SSA, it is difficult to quantify this thrust. Restructuring the MSDP to allow for more specific targeting, understanding the specific nature of Muslims’ educational deficiencies and their causes, and effective achievement of physical and financial targets may be some possible remedial measures. Given the yawning gaps in this community’s development vis-à-vis other groups, targets for interventions earmarked for minorities must be met within the given timeframe.




Basic services, such as housing, electricity, water and sanitation, refuse and waste removal, are critical to improving the life of the people. A large proportion of Muslims live in areas with poor physical and social infrastructure. It means they, like other citizens, are deprived of adequate access to basic services.


The interventions rolled out to counter the poor access of Muslims to basic services are not working. There are various reasons for it.


(1) Programmes themselves are conservative. Provision of power and drinking water, identified by the Sachar committee as major deprivation items, is not included in the package of services earmarked.


(2) There are serious weaknesses in the way the 15 point programme is designed and the way its earmarked provisions are implemented and reported.


(3) The ‘area development’ approach (as opposed to targeted interventions), used both by 15 point programme and the MSDP, prevents a focus on the Muslims’ specific needs and the barriers they face. It means interventions miss the mark all the time.


(4) There are poor incentives for implementers to meet the targets in spirit, due to poor awareness and sensitivity to Muslim needs, poor flashing of the guidelines, as also due to the large discretion left to implementing agencies about the earmarked outlays and targets.


(5) Failure to take the project planning in Muslim concentration pockets to the village level, limiting this at best to the district or block level.


(6) Finally, poor engagement with stakeholders and beneficiary groups; thus plans are being chalked out and implemented in isolation, without much regard for ground reality.


To have good value for money and to redress the Muslims’ grievances about schemes and projects not reaching them, most of these weaknesses need focused attention.




The 15 point programme is akin to a sub-plan for minorities, though with limited detailing of procedures and systems for planning and reporting the financial and physical achievements regarding inclusion.


(1) Only a few ministries are allocate 15 per cent of the outlays for minorities. Due, in part, to the wide scope left in programme design, ministries violate budget provisions.


(2) No system to report back achievements exists for bulk of the funds ostensibly earmarked for minorities in Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission and other urban development schemes.


(3) In area approach, there is much confusion about unit of planning. For most schemes, it is the district and not village or block, with the result that most programmes bypass the minorities.


(4) Much of implementation is left to intentions or just to chance; with little institutionalisation of systems and procedures.


(5) Monitoring is very weak in the centre and virtually non-existent at the state and district levels, leading to weak policy focus and poor output.


(6) There is no evidence of efforts to help build systems and capacities of the implementing agencies.


(7) Government departments have poor awareness of expectations.


(8) Citizens are still less aware of benefits, and have no involvement in planning and implementation.


The MSDP has been termed as a magic wand for Muslim upliftment. But the performance to date is far below satisfaction.


(1) It is being implemented in only 90 minority concentration districts, covering only 30 per cent of minority population.


(2) It uses the area approach, with district as the unit of planning. The benefits are not targeted.


(3) There is no scope for innovations or creative schemes tailored to Muslim needs.


(4) As a consequence, most funds are diverted to infrastructure development (classrooms and Anganwadi buildings) rather than to tackling the barriers to education, skill development and livelihood opportunities.


(5) Institutional weaknesses further dampen the impact due to poor capacities of implementing agencies, poor monitoring, complete absence of participatory planning and implementation, and exclusion of Panchayati Raj institutions and beneficiary groups from the process.


In conclusion, the primary requisites for the success of the existing government programmes and schemes are allocation of sufficient funds to the ministry of minority affairs along with proper utilisation of allocated funds. There are serious structural and capacity issues that prevent implementing agencies from effectively delivering. The question of trust between the government and the Muslim community is a serious matter that has to be handled carefully. Above all, there is need for political will for setting these changes in motion; without it any number of policies and initiatives cannot help improve the plight of the minorities in the country.