NEW DELHI: The Niti Aayog has suggested taking steps over the next three years to strengthen the implementation of existing welfare schemes for minorities, contending there were no substantive developmental programmes focused on the communities until the 11th five-year plan.
The Aayog also made a strong pitch for promoting education at primary, secondary and tertiary levels to empower minorities and recommended expanding skill development as well as women leadership programmes for the communities.
The policy think-tank has made the recommendations in its 'Three Year Action Agenda, 2017-18 to 2019-20', released by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley today.
Among others, the Aayog observed Muslims, who constitute the largest religious minority, lag behind other communities in terms of economic, health and education parameters.
The participation of Muslims in salaried jobs is also low. Muslim workers are largely concentrated in the informal sector which is characterised by low wages, poor working conditions and little or no social security, it said.
"Until the Eleventh Five Year Plan, there were no substantive developmental programmes focused on minorities.
Even the Eleventh Five Year Plan programmes were implemented for too short a time period to be assessed.
"Steps need to be taken over the next three years to strengthen the implementation of existing schemes for minorities as well as evaluate their effectiveness," it said in the agenda.
The Aayog suggested governments to earmark funds for welfare of the communities under the Prime Minister's 15-point programme based on the need of their population than allocating a "fixed share of 15 per cent".
It suggested that all the secondary/senior secondary schools that have been sanctioned till date for areas with a large minority population should be made functional. It, however, did not specify the number of the schools.
It noted that enrolment of Muslim girls at 555 Balika Vidyalayas sanctioned since 2006-07, operational in minority concentrated areas, was only 16.39 per cent till 2013-14.
To enhance the enrolment, the Aayog said emphasis should be given to provision of collective transportation facilities and also recommended taking measures like well-designed school stipend or cash transfer programmes for students.
The Aayog noted that there are a "large number of madrasas" in the country and said continued efforts should be made to modernise them through curricular reforms and provision of facilities like computers, labs, libraries.
"A fee waiver could also be considered for madrasa students opting for examinations conducted by the National Institute of Open Schooling," it added.
With regard to strengthening higher education for minorities, the Aayog said that establishment of model degree colleges in all identified districts should be completed by end of the three-year period (by 2019-20).
"Additionally, the functionality of all Women's Hostels that have been sanctioned by the University Grants Commission (UGC) for minority concentrated areas should be ensured," it said.
Noting that skill development is "critical" given the widespread unemployment, particularly among Muslim youth, the Aayog said there should be a special focus on traditional skills that are possessed by minority communities.
This can be accomplished through the Upgrading the Skills and Training in Traditional Arts/Crafts for Development scheme approved in 2014-15, it said and recommended offering stipend to students.
"Minority populations should be made aware of and encouraged to access benefits offered by schemes like Start-Up India and Stand-Up India," it said.
In order to empower women from the communities, the report said that the 'Nai Roshni', the newly-launched leadership training programme for women, should be expanded to all districts with a large minority population.
Representation of women from minority communities must be ensured in all institutions intended to promote their welfare.
This includes the National and State Women's Commissions, National and State Minority Commissions and Minority Financial Corporations, the Aayog said.