New Delhi: The Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government that’s beset by corruption scandals and a struggling economy launched efforts to reach out to the sizable Muslim electorate just months ahead of the national election, announcing two education schemes worth Rs.1,600 crore for the community.
The human resource development (HRD) ministry on Monday said the two schemes will focus on improving education and employability of Muslim youths in minority-concentrated districts. India has nearly 110 so-called minority-concentrated districts, areas where Muslims account for at least 20% of the total population.
One of the schemes will focus on improving the education and skills of Muslim girls, and the other will focus on socio-economic upliftment of all Muslims above 15 years.
The first scheme will cost the HRD ministry at least Rs.978 crore, and the second will be rolled out at an investment of about Rs.600 crore, HRD minister M.M. Pallam Raju said after a meeting of the National Monitoring Committee for Minorities’ Education (NMCME).
The two schemes are expected to benefit at least 1.9 million Muslims, the ministry estimated.
“A new scheme for skill development among minority girls covering 9.20 lakh minority girls at the proposed outlay of Rs.978 crore (will be rolled out),” Raju said.
Experts say the Congress party is seeking to consolidate its vote bank by reaching out to minority communities ahead of the April-May national election.
The party, facing charges of corruption and poor fiscal management, fared badly in four of the five recent state assembly elections, losing mainly to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In Delhi, the ruling Congress came third after the BJP and the debutant Aam Aadmi Party, which eventually formed the government.
The HRD ministry said the inspiration for the new education schemes came from the Rajinder Sachar committee report on the state of the Muslim community, which was submitted in 2006.
“We have a focus on Muslims. We have achieved good results in terms of Muslims students enrolment. We are striving to improve access, and help them in their upliftment,” Raju said.
According to official data, enrolment of Muslim children in schools as a percentage of total enrolment improved from 9.4% in 2006 to 14.2% in 2012-13 at the primary level. In the upper primary level, enrolment improved from 7.2% to 12.1%.
“We have received all approvals for these schemes and in next three weeks, we will roll out the initiatives in at least 60 districts of the country,” said Jagmohan Raju, a joint secretary in the HRD ministry. He said these districts are largely concentrated in states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Assam.
According to the Sachar committee report, six states, not including the Muslim-dominated Jammu and Kashmir, have a Muslim population above the national average of 13.4%. These are Assam (30.9%), West Bengal (25.2%), Kerala (24.6%), Uttar Pradesh (18.55%), Bihar (16.5%) and Jharkhand (13.8%).
While Muslims constitute less than 10% of the population pursuing higher education, according to government data, the Sachar committee highlighted that the presence of Muslims in top government jobs was minuscule—3% in the Indian Administrative Service, 1.8% in the Indian Foreign Service and 4% in the Indian Police Service.
The government will also allot model schools and colleges in minority-concentrated districts, the HRD ministry said. It has approved 277 model schools (special secondary schools in the line of central schools) in Muslim-dominated localities.
In addition to these efforts, the minority affairs ministry plans to roll out coaching centres to train Muslim youths in job readiness and help them prepare for examinations to top engineering and management schools.
“Another new scheme for establishing educational hubs by co-locating KGBV (Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas), girls hostels, degree colleges, polytechnics in few selected towns/ districts, which are educationally backward and have substantial Muslim concentration, is also being worked out,” Raju said.
An education expert who attended the NMCME meeting on Monday, while declining to be identified, said most of the decisions seemed to be aimed at the election. “The decision should have been taken four years back, not in January 2014, months away from elections,” he said.
Mahbubul Hoque, chairman of the Education Research and Development Foundation, a private education trust in Assam, said the Union government announcing new schemes or packages won’t be of much help. “They need to devise a system and ask the states to implement it. The problem is implementing initiatives in the grass-roots level,” he said.