Sachar economist back with some bang

The UPA government’s minority welfare agenda, one of its prime planks, could be floundering due to inadequate outreach and discrimination, the very drawbacks it aims to plug.

Two India reports by the US-India Policy Institute, a Washington-based think-tank, has noted a steady decline in key human development indicators of Muslims, India’s largest minority, apart from high hunger levels in Gujarat, one of India’s fastest growing states.

The UPA government had rolled out multiple welfare programmes after the 2006 Sachar Committee report on disadvantages faced by Muslims, India’s largest minority.

The research, which takes a post-Sachar look, suggests that the government’s minority welfare agenda could need some fix. The research was anchored by Abusaleh Shariff, the lead economist of the Sachar Committee report, and is due out in December.

Earlier, a four-year study by the Centre for Equity Studies (CES) even blamed the UPA government for lacking “political courage” to directly address Muslim disadvantages for fear of being criticised.

University of California, Riverside economist Anil B. Deolalikar, the lead author of the International Food Policy Research Institute’s India Hunger Index, is also on the US-India Policy Institute’s panel.

The institute’s Gujarat paper, titled Relative Development of Gujarat and Socio-Religious Differentials, says the state had high levels of hunger, while “simultaneously boasting” high per capita income. It also is among the lowest beneficiaries from a national rural jobs programme.

According to Shariff, new evidence indicates that despite funneling over Rs 7,000 crore for multi-pronged plans in the past five years, exclusion could still be holding back socio-economic recovery of over 150-million Muslims.

The main philosophy behind the Sachar report, according to Shariff, was to enable minorities including Muslims, gain social and economic access in line with their population share, Shariff told HT.

“However some of the government’s initiatives based on identity and apparently are aimed at providing immediate benefit. Such policies will have little if at all priority in the bureaucratic scheme of things,” Shariff said.

The current approach – whereby the government creates specific schemes for minorities – could create a wedge between competing communities, he added.

According to Sachar’s findings, Muslims held fewer than 5% of government posts and made up only 4% of undergraduates. Their poverty rates were found to be only slightly better than low-caste Hindus, such as Dalits, while their literacy rate ranked well below the national average.

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