The Union government has made it clear that they have no plans of restoring or reinstating the Maulana Azad National Fellowship (MANF) scheme and pre-matric scholarships for the minority community students from Classes 1 to 8. On February 2, 2023, during the ongoing special Budget Session of the Parliament, Lok Sabha Members Shri K. Muraleedharan (INC), Shri Abdul Khaleque (INC), and Shri Kunwar Danish Ali (BSP) raised questions concerning the discontinuation of the MANF scheme for minority students.
On December 9, 2022, the Union government had announced the union government’s decision to discontinue the Maulana Azad National Fellowship (MANF), a scholarship for students from minority communities, from this academic year. The reason quoted by the government was that the MANF scheme overlapped with various other fellowship schemes for higher education.
The MPs had asked the government to provide the details, including the underlying reasons, for the discontinuation of the MANF scheme and the pre-matric scholarships for the students belonging to minority communities. The ministers had also asked whether the said decision of discontinuation will affect the studies of the minority students or not.
The Union Minister of the Ministry of Minorities Affairs, Smriti Irani, responded to the said questions by reiterating the answer provided by the Ministry before, and informing the Lok Sabha that “the Government has implemented various schemes for the welfare and upliftment of every strata, including minorities, especially the economically weaker and lesser privileged sections of the society, through various schemes of the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Ministry of Textiles, Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Women and Child Development and Ministry of Rural Development.”
As a justification for discontinuing the MANF, the government provided that “It has been observed that the Junior Research Fellowship (JRF) Scheme of UGC and CSIR is open for students of all categories. Besides, students from minority communities are also covered under National Fellowship Schemes for Scheduled Castes and OBCs implemented by Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment and National Fellowship Schemes for Scheduled Tribes implemented by Ministry of Tribal Affairs.” But, the issue with the government’s statement of MANF overlapping with other schemes is not justified as it has been specifically pointed out that the MANF overlaps with the OBCNF (Other Backward Classes National Fellowship) and students from minority communities are not included in the category of OBCs, STs or SCs.
Furthermore, as it is not possible for a student to benefit from multiple scholarships at the same time, the question of overlap does not arise. Since the number of applicants for Junior Research Fellowship are high, while the ones that get the grant are low, the MANF scholarship provided a second backing to the child from the minority communities.
For making the Pre-Matric Scholarship Scheme applicable to only students of classes IX and X, the government provided that the same was decided as under the Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009, free and compulsory elementary education (classes I to VIII) to each and every child. For a government that aims to encourage access to education for all, especially to the underprivileged and minorities, this seems like a step back.
Both of these decisions, which the government is in no mood to change, seem like an effort by the government to snatch the minority community’s access to education and research. The number of students from the minority communities is low as it is. It can be said that while making these decisions of cutting down scholarships, the government has failed to consider the systematic oppression and discrimination faced by the minorities.
The complete answer may be read here.
In the same Budget session of the Parliament, MP Mala Roy questioned the Ministry of Minority Affairs to provide information regarding whether the Government proposes to withdraw the education loan subsidy for minority students to study abroad, the details thereof and the number of beneficiaries. In January 2023, the Ministry of Minority Affairs had discontinued the scheme of interest subsidy on education loans for overseas studies for students belonging to minority communities (Padho Pardesh).
All the banks were notified by the Indian Banks’ Association last month about the discontinuation of the Padho Pardesh Interest Subsidy Scheme from 2022-23. The scheme so far was being implemented through Canara Bank, the designated nodal bank. As per MoMA’s latest annual report, during the year 2020-21, an amount of ₹20.20 crore was released to Canara Bank for reimbursement of interest subsidy of fresh plus renewal candidates under the Scheme.
The reason for the same, as provided by the minister in her reply, was that “it was observed that benefits of interest subsidy that got accrued to the beneficiaries under the Padho Pardesh scheme were limited and also that there is an apparent overlap with other similar schemes being implemented by other Ministries which are applicable to eligible minority community students as well. In view of the aforesaid overlap, limited benefits and ease of availing education loans on low rate of interest, it has been decided to discontinue Padho Pardesh Scheme from 2022-23 onward.”
The government further provided the state/UT-wise number of beneficiaries during last five years, which is as follows:
It is essential to note, as can be deduced from the data provided, the number of beneficiaries of the Padho Pardesh scheme had only increased in the last 5 years. In comparison to 3,656 beneficiaries in the year 2020-21, there were 4,622 beneficiaries in the year 2021-22, when the government suddenly decided to stop this education loan subsidy scheme.
It is further crucial to note, that in there had been a significant increase in the number of beneficiaries in the (erstwhile) state and current Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, wherein the number increased to 202 in 2021-22 from just 28 beneficiaries in 2017-18; the state of Kerala, wherein the number increased to 3,359 in 2021-22 from just 715 beneficiaries in 2017-18. The significant increase in the overall number of beneficiaries as also the substantial increase in number of beneficiaries in some of the states indicates that the reach of the scheme had just about spread widely and was benefiting the minorities when the government decided to pull the plug on them.
The complete answer may be read here.