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Growth with minority focus

New Delhi, Nov. 3: Various ministries of the Manmohan Singh government have agreed — in some cases reluctantly — to amend the guidelines for implementation of targeted development programmes in accordance with the Prime Minister’s 15-point programme for minorities.

Although not stipulated in the terms of reference, a cabinet note on the programme said 15 per cent of the beneficiaries of such programmes will be minorities and the Centre and state governments will have to make special efforts to ensure that this target is fulfilled.

Official sources said the 15 per cent figure was arrived at after long deliberations between the Prime Minister, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and ministers.

The population of all minority groups, listed by the National Minorities Commission, is 18.4 per cent and anything less than 15 per cent would make a “travesty” of the 15-point programme’s intent and objectives, the sources said.

“This is slightly less than the proportion of the minority population but at least at the national and state levels, it sets out a target.”

There was resistance in almost all the ministries to this target, despite the cabinet ratifying the Prime Minister’s policy. Some of them argued that it was not possible to rework their programmes mid-way through the year (it was passed by the cabinet last June) while others contended that it may “deprive” the scheduled castes and tribes of their “rightful share”.

The objectors were told that there was “nothing illegal or unconstitutional” about the programme because it did not talk of reservation.

Moreover, it did not entail a special budgetary alloca- tion because no additio- nal schemes had been announced.

The Prime Minister explained in a letter to chief ministers written on September 10 that available evidence on whether the benefits of development schemes were equitably shared did not “inspire confidence”.

The idea of his government’s programme, he said, was to ensure the “equitable flow of benefits to the minorities in accordance with our broad developmental goals”.

The newest plan, of offering scholarships to minority students that was included in the list of schemes named in the 15-point programme was unveiled by finance minister P. Chidambaram in his budget speech for 2006-07.

The 15 per cent target means that if, say, the Indira Awaas Programme aims to build a lakh houses for the poor a year, 15,000 will be for the minorities. This number will be divided in proportion to the share of their population at the district, block and village levels.

The minority affairs ministry has been given the responsibility of monitoring the programme and coordinating with other ministries.

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