For the first time, a welfare scheme sponsored by the central government will set aside funds exclusively for religious minorities. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s remark last week that minorities should have the first claim on resources, were clearly not empty words.
Last month, the government revised the guidelines of the Swarnjayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana (SGSY), a Rs 1,200-crore programme for the self-employment of the rural poor, to give special attention to minorities living below the poverty line (BPL).
A letter, dated November 6, from the Rural Development Ministry to state governments, gives them “targets of swarozgaris”. They have to ensure that the percentage of BPL families from the minority communities on the list of beneficiaries should be the same as their percentage in the entire state.
As a result, of the 10 lakh beneficiaries to be targeted across states in 2006-07, over 1.6 lakh will be religious minorities. The number varies from 16 people in Mizoram to 35,000 in West Bengal.
A guideline which earlier read “safeguards for the weaker sections” has been changed to make an addition — “and minorities”.
Minorities include Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Parsis and others notified in the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992. But in states where these communities are in a majority, they do not qualify as a ‘minority’.
Earlier in June, the government had decided to allocate 15 per cent of central funds to the minorities. And if the SGSY amendment is any indication, the minorities will get their share of the pie.