Scholarships not reaching India’s minorities

March 13th, 2008 - 11:07 am ICT by admin  

(Special)
By Rajeev Ranjan Roy
New Delhi, March 13 (IANS) Only 5,588 merit-cum-means scholarships were given to India’s minority community students for pursuing professional and technical courses for 2007-08 even though the allowed quota was 20,000, official data shows. The disparity has prompted Sikh, Buddhist, Christian and Muslim leaders to demand a mechanism to monitor the implementation of the new scholarship scheme, which was approved by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) in June last year.

Against an entitlement of 840 merit-cum-means scholarships for Buddhists given by the ministry of minority affairs, only five students - two from Orisssa, and one each from Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Assam - got scholarships.

Muslim and Christian students were given 4,344 and 1,189 scholarships respectively in 35 states and union territories as against the entitlement of 14,585 and 2,540 scholarships for the two communities.

The number of Sikh beneficiaries stood at 50 as against a quota of 2,540 for the community.

“The government must put in place an effective monitoring mechanism to ensure that the benefits of scholarships do reach the targeted groups. The whole purpose will be defeated if implementation is not ensured at the ground level,” Mahendra Pratap Rana, director, Delhi-based Buddha Smriti Sansthan (BSS), told IANS.

Experts believe lack of awareness among minority community students and bureaucratic hurdles are holding back the scholarships for which applications are processed at the state level.

Minority Affairs Minister A.R. Antulay has informed the Rajya Sabha, parliament’s upper house, in a written statement that only 5,588 scholarships worth Rs.140 million were given in 11 states in 2007-08 - Karnataka (785), Orissa (81), Kerala (1,405), Tamil Nadu (753), Bihar (1,444), Madhya Pradesh (393), Goa (29), Chandigarh (5), Himachal Pradesh (11), Assam (504) and Delhi (178).

Religious minorities make up about 14 percent of India’s billion plus population.

“There is a need to create more awareness among targeted groups about the scheme. At the same time, the government must ensure that states promptly process applications. It is extremely saddening if poor students do not avail of the benefits of a scholarship,” Lama Chosphel Zotpa, a senior member of the National Commission for Minorities (NCM), told IANS.

Many community leaders recommend setting up independent nodal agencies in all states to supervise the implementation of educational schemes meant for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, other backward classes and minorities.

“There are so many scholarship schemes that the government cannot ensure their effective implementation without putting in place a dedicated mechanism. It is easy to have scholarships for the poor, but difficult to ensure that benefits percolate to them,” said N. Paul Divakar, convenor, National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR).

The scheme is open only for students whose family’s annual income from all sources does not exceed Rs.250,000. The government pays the fee for the recognised professional and technical courses for every beneficiary apart from a Rs.10,000 per annum maintenance allowance for the hostellers and Rs.5,000 for day scholars.

“The government should evolve a fine-tuned mechanism in consultation with the university administration instead of depending upon states for implanting such schemes. If such an arrangement is not made, I am uncertain if the new scheme will not meet the fate of other schemes where nobody knows how useful such schemes are,” Mohammad Shafi Qureshi, chairman, NCM, said.

Ministry officials, however, are not discouraged.

“It is a new scheme approved by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) only June 21 last year. It is going to be successful, and we hope to achieve the target in the coming fiscal. The gap in the target for 2007-08 will also be met in the next fiscal,” a ministry official, requesting anonymity, said.

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