Opposition parties, rights groups claim funding for minority development schemes has been sharply reduced
Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley addresses the media after presenting the annual budget on Feb. 1. Civil rights groups and opposition leaders were critical of the budget. (Photo by IANS)
The annual federal budget of India's pro-Hindu government has disappointed religious minorities as much of it was mere juggling of words, according to civil society groups and opposition political parties.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the US$719 million allocated to the Ministry of Minority Affairs is a 62 percent increase, but critics say funding for minority development schemes has come down.
"The fact is that the allocation for minority development schemes has been sharply reduced" to one fourth from US$634 million to US$158 million, said Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of West Bengal state who leads the Trinamool (grassroots) Congress, an opposition party.
"It is a budget which is neither here nor there. There is nothing new."
However, Minister for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi told reporters that the major chunk of the funding will go toward the education of Muslim women and their empowerment.
Rights activist Bezwada Wilson told ucanews.com that the budget carries no hope for marginalized groups such as the Dalits, ethnic minority groups and indigenous people.
"From that perspective, it is a big disappointment for the country's poor people," he said.
Wilson said government claims of increasing funding do not mean anything for the people.
"The issue is how the government will implement the schemes that it says are meant for minorities. It is well apprehended that tomorrow it [money] will be used to build a park, and it will be said that minorities can also can jog in it. This is the way things are going in this country," he said.
Wilson said the budget does not mention the ruthless practice of manual scavenging, which involves desperately poor people handling human waste.
"There have been hundreds of deaths reported in septic tanks. The government was silent over implementing the latest techniques that could replace manual scavenging," he said.
Amit Mitra, an Indian economist and politician, told a television channel that the budget has reduced funding in the three vital areas of national drinking water, border area development and minority development schemes.
The schemes meant for poor people have had no increase, he said. For example, the budget makes no increased allocation for the welfare of lower-caste or indigenous people, he said.
Budget allocation has been only marginally increased in vital social welfare sectors such as education, health and rural development, said Mitra. He called the budget a jumla (empty promise).
Presentation Sister Anastasia Gill, a Christian representative on the Delhi Minorities Commission, told ucanews.com that financial schemes for minorities are rarely implemented on the ground.
"We have noticed a lack of seriousness in implementation. The schemes are announced but there is no procedure in force for their implementation," she said.
For example, every budget contains a scheme to provide financial help for poor school and college students from minority communities. "So far there hasn't been any follow-up action by the government to see if the funds actually reach them. This is quite an unfortunate aspect," she added.
"The ramifications of the budget allocation are unclear," said Zaffarul Islam Khan, chairman of the Delhi Minorities Commission. He said he could not comment further until matters become clearer.
Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and Zoroastrians are six religions with legal "national minority" status, entitling the poor among them to financial assistance for education and health care and subsidies for pilgrimages. They also get reserved places in educational institutions and employment.
Indian Muslims, who number about 172 million of the country's 1.2 billion people, are the dominant minority. The second largest minority, Christians, account for 28 million people. Sikhism, the fourth most followed religion, has some 20 million, while all the rest put together account for 23.5 million.
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