The number of Muslim students availing government scholarships fell in the first year of the NDA regime after having risen for five years, data placed before Parliament show, with the decline attributed to the mandatory use of Aadhaar.
Scholarships availed by all other minority groups -- Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis -- increased in 2014-15 whereas those obtained by Muslims fell by about 400,000 in the same period, leading to a government promise to streamline the process involved.
"The decline could also have been because of the general elections in 2014. The process is being streamlined so that more students can benefit from the scholarships," Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, minister of state for minority affairs, told HT.
The ministry has now issued a clarification saying Aadhaar was optional for availing scholarships.
The UPA government introduced three scholarship schemes -- pre-matric, post-matric and for meritorious students -- in 2008 primarily to uplift Muslims described as “most deprived” among minorities by the Sachar panel.
In 2014, minority affairs minister Najma Hebtullah wrote to all chief ministers, making Aadhaar-linked DBT (direct benefit transfer) mandatory for transfer of scholarship money to students from minority community in the interest of transparency.
She asked the states to ensure full Aadhaar enrolment of all minority community students so that bank accounts already existing or being generated through the Prime Minister’s Jan Dhan Yojana could be linked with the unique identity numbers.
That possibly led to the exclusion of Muslim students in high minority concentration states such as Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Assam and Maharashtra where penetration of the 12-digit biometric Aadhaar number is low. Not more than 60% of the population in these states had an Aadhaar number as of the end of the last financial year.
The Sachar panel in its report in 2006 said only 4.5% of Muslims, who constituted 13.4% of India’s population in 2001, had bank accounts. It was almost half the financial inclusion percentage for other minority religious groups that were just 5.4% of the population in 2001. The government did not generate financial inclusion data on religious grounds after that. A religion-wise break-up of the 2011 data has not been released.
Expressing concern over the fall in scholarship numbers, Zoya Hasan, a member of the high-level committee to examine the Sachar panel report on deprivation of Muslims, sought an investigation and said data showed the DBT was not a “workable proposition” as it could lead to exclusion of the deprived.
“The government’s financial inclusion is not working for Muslims and the deprived,” she said.
The ministry said in the financial year 2015-16 the procedure to award scholarships was being streamlined and students could apply online through a dedicated web portal www.scholarships.gov.in.