AN EXCLUSIVE SABRANG SERIES
How the Modi Sarkar’s Direct Benefit Transfer has Spelt Doom for Scholarships for Minority Students
The Direct Benefit Transfer, hailed as a boon by votaries of the ‘free market’ who argue that such a system eliminates middlemen and emancipates the real beneficiaries of subsidies, has been spelling doom for the future of deserving students from among India’s minorities.
While the present Indian Government has spent crores in self-promotion since 2014, foregrounding its slogan of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas”, a detailed investigation reveals a steady decline into both the allocation of funds and numbers of beneficiaries, of the Minority Scholarships Scheme, a flagship of the previous government, since 2014-2015. These schemes of affirmative action were an outcome of the findings of the Sachar Committee Report that analysed the pathetic socio economic conditions of India’s minorities.
The 5th point of Prime Minister’s 15 point programme prompted by the Sachar Report is scholarships for meritorious students of minority communities. This falls under the larger goal of providing equal opportunity to minorities. In line with this the pre-matric, post-matric, Merit-cum-means(MCM) and Maulana Azad National Fellowship (MANF) are disbursed by the Ministry of Minority Affairs(MoMA). There are six religious minorities covered by the MoMA namely Muslims, Sikh, Christian, Parsi, Jain and Buddhists. These schemes are all targeted to improve access of minorities to education and reduce the financial burden on their wards. However, the funds and consequently the number of beneficiaries of these schemes have been declining steadily since 2014-15.
This exclusion of poor minority students from education leads to higher dropout rate, acute deprivation and overtime the backwardness of communities… Digitization and direct benefit transfers can never succeed in reaching out to the genuine beneficiary of welfare schemes unless these beneficiaries are educated and equipped to read and write… No inclusive growth is possible if there is unequal opportunity to develop the minds of the next generation.
Aimed at providing inclusive development and access to opportunities to the poor religious minorities, the pre matric scholarship, targets students studying from Standard I to Standard X. Eligible candidates are those who secured more than 50% in the final examination and the income of their parent or guardian does not exceed 1 lakh rupees per annum. The post matric scheme applies to students studying in Indian Government or notified private institutes for technical and vocational courses with a duration of more than a year. The eligibility criteria is that the student must have scored above 50% in the last final examination and the income of parents or guardian does not exceed 2 lakh rupees per annum.The merit-cum- means (MCM) scholarship is for poor minority meritorious students at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. It covers students pursuing technical and professional courses at public or notified private institutions. Students scoring more that 50% in the last final examination and whose parents or guardians do not earn more than 2.5 lakh rupees from all sources annually are eligible.
The Maulana Azad National fellowship (MANF) for minority students is a five year scholarship for minority doctoral candidates, so as to enable them to finish pursuing higher education and find employment in academic and educational institutes. Only CBSE-NET or CSIR-NET qualified minority scholars are eligible. The student must be enrolled in a full time course and will not be eligible for any other government support after becoming a recipient of this fellowship. All the above schemes have a 30% reservation of seats for female candidates. In all the scholarship schemes, preference is given to poor and senior students and even in renewals the merit does not play a major role. It is only in the case of a tie that merit of the students is called upon to decide who will be the beneficiary.
The overall decline in pre-matric, post-matric and MCM scholarship is shown in graph 1. All the scholarships have declined beyond the year 2014-15. The slide in financial allocation to the pre-matric and post-matric scholarships has almost declined to their 2011-12 level. This is in the face of rising population and poverty in the country over the time period under consideration. The financial disbursement to the MCM scholarship generally has increased substantially over the period. But the MCM scholarship is for minority students at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels and of the pre-matric and the post-matric scholarships have declined and the reduction in eligible students at that level has shown a lag. Therefore, even though the MCM scholarship has not seen a decline in disbursement now it will in the future because a smaller number of poor minority students will be able to make it into higher studies because their access has been hampered by the punctured flow of the pre-matric and post-matric scholarships early on in their education.
Graph 1: Financial allocation to Pre-matric, post-matric and MCM scholarships in rupees crore
The total increase in the financial allocation to the pre-matric scholarship has been 21.8% while that to the post-matric has seen a decline of 0.43% over the six year period. The MCM allocation has grown by 180% over the time period. This increase is in part the result of the increase in the pre-matric and post-matric disbursement in the erstwhile years. As is expected with the decline in financial allocation the number of beneficiaries has also declined. The MANF reports only the number of beneficiaries in the current year which has remained steady at 756, but renewals are unknown and therefore the financial allocation decline or increase is unknown. However, in terms of the number of beneficiaries the other three scholarships have seen a decline over the 2011-12 to 2017-18 period, even as the minority population has only increased over the same period. This implies that the coverage of these scholarships has reduced even as the Right to Education Act claims to strive to ensure free and compulsory education to every child of the country.
The pre-matric scholarship, that coincides with the years that the RTE ensures access to education (6-14 years), has seen a 11.84% decline in the beneficiaries it has served over the period 2011-12 to 2017-18. The post-matric beneficiaries have declined at about the same rate, 11.49% to be precise. The MCM beneficiaries have more than doubled in consonance with the increase in financial allocation to the scheme.
It is extremely important to note that it is not the demand or number of eligible students that decides the number of beneficiaries but rather the funds allocated to the scheme which is the key determinant. Therefore, the number of applications does not pull the number of scholarships granted.
Graph 2: Number of beneficiaries of pre-matric, post-matric and MCM scholarships
The decline in scholarships has not been due to a decline in applications for the scholarships as shown in Graph 3. The applications for post matric scholarships have only increased over the period 2013-14 to 2017-18 peaking in 2016-17. The MCM scholarship applications have declined by 23.72%, yet the MCM financial allocation and number of beneficiaries have more than doubled overtime. This implies that the earlier a lot of MCM applicants were not receiving scholarships despite being eligible due to a paucity of funds. The decline in applications of the MCM may also be the result of digitisation of records as happened in Uttarakhand. Uttarakhand State scheme for BPL minority children saw a decline of 88% in beneficiaries since the accounts were digitised in 2015-16.
Graph 3: Total Applications received for Pre-matric, post-matric and MCM scholarships
The decline has occurred due to budget cuts and the direct benefit transfer scheme as conceded by the union minister of Minority Affairs, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi on June 29, 2018. He said that the scholarship was “budget based” and not “demand driven” commenting on the divergence between the number of applications received and scholarships granted. The decline in number of beneficiaries is not due to a higher rejection rate of applications received.
The MCM scholarship is a case in point, the financial outlay grew, 24, 45% between 2013-14 to 2016-17, the beneficiaries increased by 21.34% while the applications declined. Were there no eligible students who were not receiving scholarships the increase in disbursement would not have been possible with a contraction in number of applicants. Thus, it is clear that the direct benefit transfer of scholarships has not led to an increase in outreach to the rightful beneficiaries. If rightful beneficiaries have received scholarships it is due to the increase in funds to these welfare schemes. But the case of the MCM is not indicative because a tapering off of the pre-matric and post-matric scholarship will thwart the access of minority children at the very elementary stage.
With the rise in clamour around secularism and the UN pointing out that BJP has contributed to vigilantism against minorities, it is important to highlight the systemic violence of exclusion that is being perpetuated. This exclusion of poor minority students from education leads to higher dropout rate, acute deprivation and overtime the backwardness of communities. Illiteracy is one of the key impediments in the process of bringing the populace within the net of the banking sector. Digitization and direct benefit transfers can never succeed in reaching out to the genuine beneficiary of welfare schemes unless these beneficiaries are educated and equipped to read and write. This will become a vicious circle of poverty, unemployment and illiteracy unless addressed by the Government in systematic interventions. No inclusive growth is possible if there is unequal opportunity to develop the minds of the next generation.
Ankita Rastogi is a PhD scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi