A day after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed his government's commitment for uplift of minority communities, Minorities Affairs Minister AR Antulay announced on Thursday that the Sachar Committee's recommendations on Muslims would be fully implemented by next year.
"We will not only implement the recommendations of the Sachar Committee but also take action on its observations," he said later, speaking on the sidelines of the international conference on dalits and minorities organised by Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party (LJP).
The announcement is significant as this is the first time that a representative of the government has unequivocally expressed its intention to carry out in toto the committee's recommendations. At the time the report was submitted, Antulay had stated that an action plan on it would be ready by February next year.
His latest announcement appears to have been made with an eye on the coming Assembly polls in UP where the Congress is anxious to improve its prospects. The sizeable Muslim electorate in the state is expected to play a significant role in influencing the outcome of the election.
With the Dalits being another formidable vote bank in UP, the conference has been strategically timed by Paswan who is keen to forge a joint front comprising the Congress, VP Singh's Jan Morcha, Left parties and his own LJP to boost their tally in the state.
Among the salient recommendations of the Sachar panel report are providing reservations to the Dalits among Muslims, nominating members of the community to local government bodies like panchayats and municipalities, budgetary allocation for development of Muslim-dominated areas in proportion to their population percentage and setting up an equal opportunities commission to address their grievances about discrimination.
In his address to the delegates, Antulay also stated that the Centre had plans to amend the Wakf Act with the aim of giving more powers to the Central Wakf Council. This is being done with the intention of releasing Wakf properties worth crores in various states from the clutches of trespassers. The Bill is likely to be brought in the Budget session of Parliament.
Speaking at the conference, Home Minister Shivraj Patil assured the minorities that the government was committed to ensuring their safety and would ensure that stern action was taken against those who indulged in communal violence.
He informed them that a legislation on communal harmony was on the anvil and it would ensure that victims of communal riots and the kin of those killed in such incidents get immediate compensation. In the Bill, which is awaiting the approval of a parliamentary standing committee, the government has also proposed that those found responsible for instigating communal riots should be given "double" the punishment provided for such offences under the existing law.
The Bill also envisages setting up special courts to try such cases and special investigation teams to probe incidents of communal violence, the home minister said.