Redefining Demography

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If J&K loses its battle in the Supreme Court over the new minority debate, Muslims will lose a slew of benefits that come to them as India’s principal minority. Masood Hussain argues for reviving a scheme that was announced and forgotten

J&K government currently inundated in the 35A controversy is inching towards another crisis as a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has challenged J&K’s minority management set up. The case is pending before the Supreme Court and twice, the division bench has imposed costs to the Central government for not responding to the notices.

The petitioner is a Kathua based lawyer Ankur Sharma. His plea is simple. Since the state legislature has not set up State Minority Commission, the religious and the linguistic minorities in the state are facing discrimination. “Consequently, the benefits exclusively meant for the minority communities are being given away to a certain community, which is the majority community, in an illegal and arbitrary manner,” the PIL pleads. “Non-identification and non-notification of the minorities is leading to disbursement of minority benefits illegally and arbitrarily, according to the whims and fancies of successive state governments.”

Since the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992, is not applicable to J&K, the petition says constitutional guarantees under Article 29 and 30 (rights of minorities) are immaterial in J&K as minorities are neither identified nor notified.

For safeguarding their “interests” and “fundamental rights”, the PIL wants the Court to set up a state minority commission for identification of religious and linguistic minorities, appoint a panel of experts to submit a report on the religious and linguistic minority communities of J&K and direct extension of National Commission for Minorities to J&K. It also wants constitution of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) headed by a High Court Judge (retired) working under apex court’s direct supervision for investigating the illegal and arbitrary disbursement of minority benefits under the Prime Minister’s 15 point Programme to the communities.

Story, So Far

The petition has been there for almost three years now. A bench headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur issued notices to the state and central government and National Commission for Minorities as early as July 13, 2016. There was not any response by the central government and by February 2017, the court had slapped a fine of Rs 30,000 on the central government.

By March 27, 2017, a bench comprising Chief Justice J S Khehar and Justices D Y Chandrachud and S K Kaul had asked the state and the central government to “sit together” and decide “this very very important issue”. They were supposed to respond within four weeks. The time was later extended by three months.

State and the central government did sit together and set up a committee. Headed by secretary of the Ministry of Minority Affairs, it has J&K Chief Secretary and National Minority Commission representative as its members. The committee has met but felt the requirement of more discussion to arrive at a conclusion.

J&K’s Stand

J&K is a Muslim majority state with 68.31 percent of the 12541302 people counted Muslims in 2011 summer. Hindus are 28.43 percent of the state, followed by 1.87 percent of Sikhs, 0.89 percent of Buddhists and 0.28 percent of Christians. Of state’s 22 districts, 17 are Muslim dominated, one is Buddhist majority and the remaining four are Hindu majority areas.

Forming less than one percent of India’s population, the demographic dispersal across J&K is interesting. Leh is Buddhist majority with Muslims as minority. The neighbouring Kargil is reverse. Kashmir has negligible minorities but in Jammu, Hindu populations have huge Muslim settlements. Similar situations exist in various other districts.

That was perhaps why; the J&K’s Social Welfare Minister Sajad Gani Lone told the legislative council in June 2016, J&K does not require establishing a minority commission at all. He was responding to an intense demand by the BJP lawmakers. “Such demands will add fire,” Lone said. “Jammu has a Hindu majority and Kashmir has a Muslim majority. We cannot declare minorities at block levels and have to follow national criteria.”

In this argument lies the state’s case. Unlike the central government, state has responded to the notice of the Court. J&K submitted to the court that Muslim majority J&K has unfairly been singled out. Same situation exists in many other states. In Punjab Sikhs are a state majority but a national minority, same is the case in Nagaland, Meghalaya, Mizoram, where Christians are in majority in addition to Muslim majority Lakshadweep. “Any decision passed by the court must be holistically and uniformly be made applicable to all the States and UTs,” J&K state said in its reply.

National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992, is not applicable to J&K. In absence of the Commission, national minorities in J&K (read Muslims) do not receive the benefits under the welfare schemes for the minorities. The state’s position is that it does not want to set up a commission but will continue implementing various central sponsored schemes in the state without seeking full benefits that minorities in India are entitled to.

Unlike J&K, states like Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Orissa, Sikkim, and Andaman where National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992, is applicable, the Commission’s have not been set up, so far. J&K’s belief is that court cannot force is to set up a minority commission because it would be “legally not maintainable”.

Blaming the petitioner for approaching the court with “unclean hands” and a “hidden agenda”, the state response to the court says that setting up of State Minority Commission is the prerogative of the lawmakers.

Major Benefit

At the peak of militancy, the Home Ministry would offer scholarships to the destitute children under various minority schemes. Its number has dwindled by now.

The only benefit that J&K is getting while being a national minority is that it has extended the loan facility of National Minority Development Finance Corporation (NMDFC) to the minorities. In J&K, there are three institutions which have been authorised by the state government, against sovereign guarantees, to lift, disburse and recover these loans, including educational loan: J&K Entrepreneurship Development Institute, J&K Women Development Corporation and, off late, J&K State Financial Corporation.

These loans are being lifted at three percent and deployed at six percent. These low cost funds have helped thousands of people to create their livelihoods in last few years. These livelihood projects in J&K have perhaps the best recovery percentage in India.

Working with NMDFC since 1994, J&KWDC has lifted and disbursed Rs 90 crore so far and it has created nearly 10,000 small livelihood units across the state.

J&KEDI started working with the NMDFC in June 2011. By now, it has lifted Rs 112.50 crore that has helped it created 3652 units across the various sectors of the economy. “We can grant a loan of 30 lakh for a viable project even for creamy layer though at more interest,” one executive of the JKEDI said. “It is great scheme that lays emphasis on simple interest and there is no default.” EDI has disbursed as many as 170 educational loans also.

A Parallel Scheme

But the policy makers in the state were not oblivious of the fact that the state minorities were at the margins of such schemes. Almost a year before Ankur Sharma went to the court; a blueprint was in the pipeline to create a parallel scheme that will benefit the state minorities including Hindus which is a national majority.

“The government proposes to launch a new scheme – Term Loan Scheme for Micro Enterprises – for the benefit of the youth belonging to non-minority population of the state who are not being covered under existing scheme of ministry of minority affairs, Government of India,” Finance Minister Dr Haseeb Drabu announced in his maiden budget speech for 2015-16. “For the purpose, detailed guidelines will be issued by the government in the month of April 2015.”

While it was not implemented by the state, the blueprint of the scheme has been dusted by the babus in the secretariat. It is being fast forwarded for a possible launch to address part of the concerns that the minorities have in J&K. As per the basic details of the proposal, the state will create a corpus to fund similar initiatives with low cost credit on NMDFC pattern.

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