Reality Check on Scholarship Programmes for Religious Minorities

  • Education is a powerful tool for fostering socioeconomic advancement within a nation, particularly for religious minorities.
  • However, in recent years, significant scholarship schemes have been discontinued, funding has been curtailed, and beneficiaries have decreased, raising worries about the commitment to inclusive growth.

Overview of Minority Educational Programmes

  • Pre-Matric Scholarship Scheme: Originally spanning classes 1 through 10, it is now only covering classes 9 and 10.
  • Post-Matric Scholarship Scheme: Supports students in grades 11 and above, with enhanced funding this fiscal year.
  • Scholarship Scheme Based on Merit and Means: Aided professional and technical courses, funding was significantly reduced.
  • The Maulana Azad National Fellowship (MANF) provided financial support for research academics but was phased out in 2022.
  • Padho Pardesh: Interest subsidy plan for higher study overseas has been discontinued.
  • Begum Hazrat Mahal National Scholarship: The scholarship for deserving females has been terminated.

Policy Changes and Their Consequences

  • Shift in Focus: Despite acknowledging the importance of education for religious minorities and inclusive growth, the government has cancelled two significant educational projects, limited the scope of another, and cut spending on several Ministry of Minority Affairs programmes.
  • Beneficiary Drop: Between 2019 and 2022, the number of beneficiaries under six educational plans for religious minorities fell by 7%, while government funding on these programmes fell by around 12.5%.
  • Budget Cuts: The Ministry of Minority Affairs’ budget for fiscal year 2023-24 was reduced by 38.3%, from Rs 5,020.5 crore in 2022-23 to Rs 3,097 crore. Furthermore, a considerable percentage of monies allocated the previous year went unused.

Importance of Strengthening Educational Aid

  • Diverse Religious Minorities: India has about 30 million individuals from religious minority communities, including Muslims (14.2%), Christians (2.3%), Sikhs (1.7%), Buddhists (0.7%), Jains (0.4%), and Zoroastrians.
  • Challenges Facing Muslims: Muslims, the world’s largest religious minority, have difficulties in areas such as economics, health, and education. Their participation in formal employment continues to be minimal, with many labouring in the informal economy in deplorable conditions.
  • Report of the Sachar Committee: The Sachar Committee emphasised the suffering and neglect experienced by Muslims across several development dimensions, emphasising the importance of affirmative action.
  • The establishment of a Ministry of Minority Affairs: In response to these concerns, the UPA government established this Ministry in 2006 to ensure that issues impacting minority populations received concentrated attention.

Impact and Difficulties

  • Reduced beneficiaries and financing have hampered project implementation, resulting in a widening imbalance in educational and economic metrics.
  • Poor beneficiary coverage and persistently low unit costs continue to be barriers to scheme implementation.
  • Enrollment of Muslim students in higher education lags behind that of other populations, exacerbating existing inequities.

Way Forward

  • Increase educational help by improving scholarships such as pre-matric, post-matric, merit-based, and national abroad scholarships.
  • Implement targeted projects based on the 15-Point Programme to close development gaps in minority-dominated areas.
  • Make scholarships more demand-driven and provide more financial resources to reduce unit costs.
  • Increase the entire budget allocation for the Ministry of Minority Affairs in order to address minority educational achievement deprivation.
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