On 1st February 2023, the government of India introduced the Union Budget 2023-24 in the Parliament. The Budget was introduced with claims of inclusive and encompassing growth. However, a closer look at the budget allocations tells a different story.
The government has slashed the budgetary allocation of the Ministry of Minority Affairs for the 2023-24 fiscal year by 38% from the previous year. The Budget estimate has come down from Rs.5,020.50 crore in 2022-23 to Rs.3,097 crore. It must be mentioned that the revised allocation, which is the mid-year review of the budget, taking into account the trend in expenditure, was Rs.2,612.66 crore for the Ministry of Minority Affairs in the 2022-23 fiscal year, indicating an under-utilisation of nearly 48% of the actual allocation.
Formation and Key role of the Ministry of Minority Affairs
In 2006, the 403-page Sachar Committee report was published, detailing the social, economic, and educational standing of Muslims in India. It found that their conditions were worse than those of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. Simultaneously, the then Manmohan Singh government revised the 15-point program in 2006 from its previous version of 1983, targeting minority communities and their welfare. This eventually led to the formation of the Ministry of Minority Affairs on 29th January 2006, which was carved out of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment for the welfare of the six centrally notified minorities, i.e. Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs and Parsis. The main objective of the ministry was to ensure a more focused approach towards issues relating to minorities and the formulation of overall policies as well as planning and coordinating them.
The Ministry works on four key areas; educational empowerment, economic empowerment, infrastructure development and special needs.
In the field of education, the Ministry of Minority Affairs implements three scholarship schemes for the educational empowerment of students belonging to the notified minority communities: (i) pre-matric scholarship; (ii) post-matric scholarship; and (iii) merit–cum–means based scholarship. For employment, the ministry had kickstarted many schemes like the Jiyo Parsi scheme, the Nayi Roshni scheme, the Seekho Aur Kamao scheme, and the Nayi Udaan scheme, among many others. These schemes aimed at providing vocational training and employment opportunities and increasing the representation of minority women in the public sphere. The ministry also formulated a new health scheme for minorities under Maulana Azad Education Foundation for providing medical aid to cover critical ailments of minorities.
Budgetary Allocation to the Ministry of Minority Affairs
Since its commencement in the year 2006-07, till 2013-14, the Ministry of Minority Affairs’ budgetary allocations increased steadily from Rs. 143 crores to Rs. 3,531 crores.
While in the first five years of its commencement, the funds allocated to the ministry increased by 24 times, it rose merely 1.4 times in the last 8 years, seeing an undercut of 38% in the current financial year.
Between 2014-15 and 2022-23, even though the absolute size of the budgetary allocation to the education sector rose, the share of education expenditure in the total Union budget fell from 4.1% to 2.4%.
Scholarship schemes were the biggest absorbers of the funds being given out by the Government. The total number of scholarships awarded increased from 74,370 in 2007 to over 70 lakh students in 2013. However, in the recent past, both the number of scholarships released and the amount sanctioned has stagnated, if not diminished.
Funds for the pre-matric scholarship for minorities were slashed this year by over 900 crores. The scholarship funds in the last budget were Rs. 1425 crore, which is reduced to Rs. 433 crores this year. The scholarship has been withdrawn for minority students, from class 1 to 8, thus, somewhat explaining the huge fund cut.
The merit-cum-means scholarship has also seen a dip in its funds. In the academic year 2014-15, the amount allocated was Rs. 302 crores, which was gradually reduced to Rs. 44 crores in 2023-24.
The sharp drop in the budgetary allocation for the Ministry of Minority Affairs has left a significant impact on educational schemes. Two of them were discontinued before the budget was announced, while five others now have massive fund cuts.
Among the central sector schemes scrapped under the ministry were the Maulana Azad National Fellowship, which provided five-year fellowships for higher education, and the Padho Pardesh Scheme, which granted interest subsidies on education loans borrowed by minority students to study abroad.
The government said the MANF and the pre-matric scheme overlap with other schemes which “also cover minority students”. The government did not provide any reason for the discontinuation of the Padho Pardesh Scheme.
The Nai Udaan scheme as well as the Begum Hazrat Mahal National Scholarship has also been withdrawn in this year’s budget.
Madrasa Modernisation Scheme
On 26th February 2009, the Ministry of Education launched a revised scheme for madrasas, called the Scheme for Providing Quality Education in Madrasas or SPQEM. Through this scheme, the government volunteered to offer substantial financial assistance to madrasas, Maktabs and Darul-Ulooms for appointing teachers to provide education in science and humanities, along with the traditional subjects. An amount of Rs. 325 crores was allocated for the scheme in the Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007 to 2012). The government then increased the budget allocation for the Department of Minorities Development and Madrasa education by over four times, from Rs 110 crore in the 2008-09 fiscal year to Rs. 524.11 crore in the 2009-10 fiscal year.
However, the budget for the 2023-24 financial year has been drastically reduced, with only Rs. 10 crores allocated - a 93% decrease from the previous year's budget.
Since its inception, the Ministry of Minority Affairs has launched several development schemes and formed organisations for the welfare of minorities, like the Maulana Azad Education Foundation (MAEF), the Multi-sectoral Development Programme (MSDP), National Commission for Minorities, among many others. In the 11th Five Year Plan, from 2007-12, the ministry had an expenditure of Rs. 23,380 crores for the MSDP scheme. In the 2010-11 fiscal year, the ministry allocated an added Rs. 990 crores for the MSDP scheme as well as doubled their grants to MAEF.
However, the 2021-22 budget had no mention of minorities and no new development schemes for them. Additionally, funds for minority programmes such as ‘The National Minorities Development and Finance Corporation (NMDFC) and ‘Leadership Development of Minority Women’ were also slashed. A report by the Institute of Policy Studies and Advocacy said,
“It may be noted that less than 0.2 per cent of the total Union Budget 2021-22 has been earmarked for the development of minorities.”
The significant decrease in budgetary allocations for Muslims raises serious concerns about the government's commitment to enhancing the socioeconomic conditions of minority communities. This trend reflects the government's apparent lack of concern for promoting equitable growth across all components of society, despite its claim of fostering progress for all through the slogan of "Sab ka Saath, Sab ka Vikas."
Budgetary cuts to schemes that are designed to uplift the underprivileged and marginalized sections of society are counterproductive to the government's professed goal of promoting development for all. Such a trend exacerbates the already-existing disparities between different groups and can limit the country's overall growth and progress.
Therefore, it is critical that future budgets prioritize equitable funding for minority schemes to ensure that all sections of society can benefit from the country's growth and development. Investing in the socioeconomic development of minority communities can lead to more significant economic growth and overall progress for the country.