Pluralism key to India’s culture: Dr Manmohan
NEW DELHI/DIMAPUR, JANUARY 13
PLURALISM is the key stone of India’s civilization and culture. So said Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh at the inaugural session of the conference of State minorities’ commissions in New Delhi today.
Accordingly he lauded the National Commission for Minorities for organizing this annual event which brings together representatives of various State Minorities Commissions in our country. Religious harmony, not mere tolerance, is the bedrock of India’s secularism. Enshrined in the Indian Constitution therefore, are several rights that are intended to protect the interests of all citizens, including religious minorities. It is also the solemn duty of the Government to make every possible effort to protect and promote secular values and provide equality of opportunity to all religious minorities, he said.The Prime Minister said that it is in furtherance of this objective that an institutional arrangement has been set up for enforcement and implementation of all safeguards provided for minorities in our Constitution, in Central and State laws, and in Government policies and administrative schemes. The National Commission for Minorities was established by statute in 1992 by the Central Government. “I am happy that several States have also followed suit. At present there are 17 State Minorities Commissions in existence in various States, and I understand that establishment of such Commissions is under active consideration of some other States as well.”
Over the years, the National Commission for Minorities and the State Commissions have played an important role in upholding the rights of minorities guaranteed by the Constitution, and in protecting their interests as equal citizens of a democratic nation.
Dr Manmohan emphasized that the Commissions have also done well in bringing into focus the responsibility of majority communities to ensure that the rights of minorities are secured. To maintain communal harmony, both majority communities and minorities have to work together to create an atmosphere of acceptance and harmony.
In most parts of the country the relationship between majority and minority communities is harmonious, although there have been instances where this relationship has been put to severe test, especially of late. These aberrations tarnish the image of our country and our society. They cause pain and suffering to the affected people. They also disrupt the ability of large sections of our society to contribute to the rapid economic progress of our country, he said.
The Central Government has also established a number of other institutions to ensure that minorities should not only be provided adequate safeguards, but also given equal access to development opportunities. The National Minorities Development & Finance Corporation (NMDFC) provides concessional finance for self-employment activities to members of minority communities.
The National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI) has been set up for protecting the rights of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice. The Maulana Azad Education Foundation (MAEF) formulates and implements educational schemes and plans for the benefit of the educationally backward minorities.
The Central Waqf Council advises the Government on matters pertaining to the working of State Waqf Boards and proper administration of Waqf properties in the country. The National Commission for Backward Classes investigates conditions of the socially and educationally backward classes which also include sections of religious minorities.
The Central Government has tried its best to ensure social and economic justice to minority communities. The New 15-Point Programme for minorities that the UPA Government launched in 2006 aims at ensuring the well-being, protection and development of minorities. The focus of the programme is to ensure that the benefits of various development schemes and programmes of the Government accrue in equitable measure to minorities, especially those located in minority concentration areas.
Wherever possible, 15% of the targets and outlays under various poverty alleviation schemes are required to be earmarked for minorities. A reasonable representation of minorities is also expected to be ensured in the Government, including the public sector enterprises.
The Prime Minister also said that efforts over the last 9 years have shown visible results but a lot more also needs to be done. Priority sector lending to minorities by banks has increased from about Rs. 59,000 crore in 2007-08 to about 1,85,000 crore in 2012-13. The share of minorities in recruitment in Central Government and Central Public Sector Enterprises has gone up from 6.9% in 2006-07 to 7.4% in 2012-13.
Under the Swarnjayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana about 11.5 lakh beneficiaries belonging to minorities have been covered from 2006-07 to 2012-13. Under the Indira Gandhi Aawas Yojana, more than 22 lakh houses have been constructed for minorities at a cost of about 7500 crore Rupees. Similarly, a large number of men, women and children from minority communities have benefitted under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the ICDS and the Swarn Jayanti Shahari Rozgar Yojana. We have implemented major scholarship schemes for minority communities. The private sector has also been persuaded to some extent to take affirmative action in favour of minorities as part of their corporate social responsibility.
The success of Central initiatives “depends to a large extent on the cooperation of States. If both the Central and State Governments work in tandem, the implementation of these programmes can be made more effective. I believe that State Minorities Commissions have a very important role to play in ensuring this outcome and I would urge their representatives present here to redouble their efforts in this direction,” Dr Manmohan Singh said.
All minority communities do not form a homogenous group. Some have done reasonably well, benefiting from the processes of social and economic development. However, other minorities, especially the Muslim community in certain parts of our country, have not had an equal share of the fruits of development. This has most recently been established by the data provided in the report of the Sachar Committee which the Government had set up.
The Prime Minister also said that It is incumbent upon any democratically elected government to redress such imbalances and inequities. Towards this end, “we have accepted 72 of the 76 recommendations made by the Sachar Committee and 43 decisions have been taken by the concerned Ministries to implement these 72 recommendations. Of the remaining 4 recommendations, action was taken on one recommendation but the matter is now sub-judice. Many of the concerns raised by the Sachar Committee have also been addressed by the Prime Minister’s New 15 Point Programme”
He further said that special mention of the Multi-sectoral Development Programme which was launched in 2008-09 in pursuance of the Sachar Committee recommendations to address the development deficit in 90 minority concentration districts across the country. The fund allotted for the programme in the 11th Plan was more than Rs 3700 crore which has been enhanced to about Rs. 5800 crore in the 12th plan. From 2013-14 the unit for planning and implementing the programme has been changed from a district to a block and it now covers 710 minority concentration blocks.
Additionally 66 minority concentration Towns (MCTs) have also been identified for coverage under the programme. Since its launch, the programme has been able to create substantial infrastructure in the targeted districts including school buildings, hostels, Primary Health Centres, Anganwadi centres, ITIs and Polytechnics.
The Ministry of Minority Affairs periodically reviews the progress made in the implementation of the accepted recommendations of the Sachar Committee. The matter is also reviewed by the Committee of Secretaries on a six monthly basis after which the progress report is placed before the Union Cabinet.
The Prime Minister felt it of utmost importance to remember that we have age old traditions of pluralism and tolerance. For India as a country, secularism has been a way of life practiced over centuries. “We should be cautious of people who work against India’s secular thought by attempting to redefine secularism. Our strength as a country lies in our unity. We should be vigilant against forces that seek to exploit our diversity in religion, language and culture to divide our people.”
The National Commission for Minorities and State Minorities Commissions must continue to play a proactive role and strengthen the hands of the Government by recommending suitable measures for improving the socio-economic condition of minorities. This will help us in realizing the dream of the fathers of our Constitution to build a nation committed to the equitable development and equality of rights of every section of the Indian people, Dr Manmohan said.
The State on its part must focus on taking care of the basic needs of education, health care, housing and employment of minorities and providing a framework for participation of minorities in governance and the processes of socio-economic development, he added.