The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Centre flags off minority mission

New Delhi, May 17: The starter’s gun has gone off on the minority report.

The Union cabinet tonight set up four groups to monitor schemes to address the economic plight of Muslims and decided to focus welfare efforts on 90 districts with minority concentration.

The initiative is based on the recommendations of the Rajinder Sachar committee, which threw up startling data on the condition of Muslims in the country.

The 90 districts will be picked for implementing welfare schemes, and banks will be asked to increase lending as well as open more branches.

The cabinet also directed ministries dealing with programmes on poverty alleviation, education and health to draw up special plans for the districts.

The districts have been identified on the basis of backwardness — socio-economic as well as civic — but the list has not been made public. Sources said at least two Bengal districts — Murshidabad and one of the Midnapores — could figure among the 90. Nandigram, with a significant minority population, falls in East Midnapore.

The election result in Uttar Pradesh, where the Congress fared badly and failed to sway the minorities, is being seen as the trigger for tonight’s cabinet decisions.

But Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had also been nudging the Prime Minister to launch an initiative to improve the lot of the community. The Sachar report had painted a dismal picture of the minority community in Bengal, embarrassing the Left Front government.

Accepting the recommendations of the Sachar committee, the government said the cabinet decisions are aimed at devising systems to reach the benefits of welfare schemes to the people.

One of the expert groups will examine and determine the structure and functions of a proposed equal opportunity commission.

Another group will recommend how to devise a diversity index that will give an overview of the different activities in which members of the community are engaged. Based on the picture that takes shape, resources will be allocated in such a manner that people are drawn to under-represented activities.

A national data bank on various social and religious communities is also on the cards. An autonomous assessment and monitoring authority in the Planning Commission will evaluate the data.

The third group will plan and monitor implementation of a comprehensive programme for skill and entrepreneurship development among Muslims. The self-employed section of the community will be given special credit facilities.

In education, the focus will be on girls. The minority affairs ministry will introduce three scholarship schemes and a separate coaching programme, the government said.

The fourth group will recommend strategies to address deficiencies in civic amenities, infrastructure and economic opportunities in 338 towns and cities with a population exceeding 50,000 and minorities accounting for at least 25 per cent.

As the report had made several suggestions to improve the operation of Wakf boards, a bill to amend the law will be tabled in Parliament and model rules framed.

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