The Ministry of Minority Affairs in December issued a notification stating that students of Classes 1-8 will no longer be eligible for the Pre-Matric Scholarship for Minorities. The scheme has now been restricted to the students of Classes 9 and 10.

The Nai Udaan Scheme, meant to help minority candidates prepare for the preliminary examinations conducted by the Union and State Public Services Commissions, has been scrapped, as was the Maulana Azad National Fellowship for higher education in December.

These schemes have been terminated even though policy documents of the government think tank Niti Aayog – including the Action Agenda and the Strategy Document – have highlighted the fact that Muslims and other religious minorities lag behind on development indicators despite the Centre’s schemes for minorities.

The reason cited for the notification restricting the Pre-Matric Scholarships to Classes 9 and 10 is that students from Classes 1-8 are covered under the Right to Education Act, 2009, which makes it obligatory for the government to provide free and compulsory elementary education to each and every child.

The notification also stated that the decision was taken to ensure parity with similar scholarships offered by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, which cover students of Classes 9 and 10.

The reasoning of the Ministry of Minority Affairs to scrap these scholarships does not hold water. Such scholarships and fellowships are awarded to encourage families to send their children to schools and colleges and incentivise students to continue their education. According to the findings of the 75th round of the National Sample Survey on education, 2017-’18, the dropout rate among Muslims is higher than among members of other religious minorities.

Low budget allocations and the underutilisation of funds have resulted in poor education levels among religious minorities, particularly Muslims. The Union government’s total expenditure for minorities, through policy strategies such as the Prime Minister’s New 15 Point Programme and Pradhan Mantri Jan Vikas Karyakram, have declined as a proportion of the total Union Budget expenditure since 2012-’13.

Ministry budget reduced

The total budget of the Ministry of Minority Affairs as a proportion of the total Union Budget declined to 0.12% in 2022-’23 from 0.14% in 2021-’22, according to budget estimates. The Ministry of Minority Affairs was allocated Rs 5,010 crore in 2022-’23 (budget estimate) whereas the 2021-’22 (revised estimates) figure stood at Rs 4,246.05 crore. The ministry utilised Rs 3,920.29 crore in 2020-’21 (actuals) against the budget estimate figure of Rs 5,029 crore for that year.

It also seems that Union Budget outlays have not been provided in accordance with the demands for funds by the ministry. For 2019-’20, against demands from the ministry Rs 5,795.26 crore, only Rs 4,700 crore was allocated. In 2020-’21, Rs 6,452 crore was demanded but only Rs 5,029 crore was alloted.

The budget allocation for the Maulana Azad Education Foundation was reduced in the last budget to Rs 1 lakh from Rs 90 crore in 2021-’22. This will affect the implementation of projects such as construction grants to minority institutions and the Begum Hazrat Mahal Scholarship Scheme for meritorious girls.

The Scheme for Madrasas and Minorities has also received a reduced budget outlay of Rs 160 crore in 2022-’23 (according to budget estimates) compared to Rs 174 crore in 2021-’22. This might affect the education of children in madrasas due to the non-payment of honoraria to teachers.

The Ministry of Education has reported Rs 310.22 crore in the revised estimates for 2020-’21 for this scheme, which provides financial assistance to introduce modern subjects in madrasas, to train teachers, and to augment school infrastructure in minority institutions.

Mostly, the utilisation of the budget under the scholarship schemes appears to be taking place in the last quarter of each financial year. The following table shows that utilisation in the first three quarters of 2020-’21 was only 19% (up to December 2020).

Figure 1: Status of Budget Allocation and Utilisation of Select Scholarship Schemes in 2020-'21 (in rupees crore). Credit: Source: Departmentally Related Standing Committee on Social Justice – Demand for Grants, Ministry of Minority Affairs, 2021-'22.

Thus, due to the poor utilisation of funds, students may be receiving their scholarships only towards the end of the academic year. While 58 lakh students received the scholarships provided by Ministry of Minority Affairs in 2020-’21, during the same year, 1.10 crore applications were received for the three scholarship schemes. Of this, 47.5% were deprived of scholarship benefits. As for the Post-Matric Scholarship scheme, only 36.7% of the total applicants received their scholarship that year.

Figure 2: Status of Implementation of Scholarship Schemes in 2020-'21. Source: Departmentally Related Standing Committee on Social Justice – Demand for Grants, MoMA -2021

The scholarship schemes face implementation issues with poor coverage of beneficiaries, low unit costs due to inadequate allocations of funds, and also scrapping of some of the schemes. The amounts given to students as scholarships are not adequate to meet their educational expenses either.

The unit cost for scholarships in Pre-Matric, Post-Matric and Merit-cum-Means schemes for minorities has not been revised since the inception of the schemes (in 2007-’08). For instance, only Rs 1,000 per annum is provided to day-scholars under the Pre-Matric Scholarship scheme.

The scholarship schemes should be made demand-driven, along with additional financial resources to enhance unit costs. The Maulana Azad National Fellowship, Pre-Matric (Classes 1-8) and Nai Udan schemes should be revived.

Under the 15-Point Programme, resource allocation should be made in line with the diverse needs of minority communities across different sectors. The total budget allocation for the Ministry of Minority Affairs should be significantly increased, given the level of deprivation in the educational attainment of minorities.

Jawed Alam Khan works with the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability, New Delhi. Views are personal.

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