//Sachar Report: Flawed report on Muslims

Sachar Report: Flawed report on Muslims

By Syed Shahabuddin

The Sachar Committee has failed to approach the problems of Muslim community in a holistic manner and contains many impractical suggestions and recommendations

The data so painstakingly collected by Justice Rajinder Sachar Committee and so competently analysed more than suffice for recognition by the state of Muslim community as a whole as a backward class within the meaning of Article 15(4) of the Constitution. Such recognition would imply reservation in education, public employment, benefits of welfare programmes and economic support like flow of bank credits, even reservation in legislatures on par with the SC/ST.

Reservation, in fact, would open the door for participation and progress and for an equitable share in the services that the state provides and in all the benefits of development. One wonders why the committee did not follow the logic of its own conclusions.

The Sachar Committee appears to have deliberately skipped the issue and confined itself to a brief discussion in a rather roundabout manner (para 5, ch 2 of the report) without coming to grips with the problem. Indeed, the title of this paragraph speaks for itself: "In lieu of a conclusion." One wishes that the committee had discussed the pros and cons of provision of reservation for Muslim community as a whole, its constitutional and political feasibility.

On the one hand, the report does make out a foolproof case for reservation both in terms of backwardness and prevailing communal bias and prejudice that Muslims have to face in every sphere; on the other, perhaps on political considerations, the report ignored the logic of the situation and the data. Politics should have been left for the Government of the day to tackle and legality for the judiciary to decide. The committee should have approached the problem in a purely academic and professional manner, diagnosed the problem in all its dimensions and suggested the best possible remedies. This is the "original sin" of the committee, which leads to flaws in its approach and strategy and to inadequate, and sometimes impracticable, suggestions and recommendations.

The Sachar Committee virtually leaves the heart of the problem untouched, the political empowerment of a persistently deprived community, which is still being made to pay for the 'sin' of partition and the real and imaginary crimes committed by its 'forefathers'. Without political empowerment no group in a multi-segmented polity can participate in governance or have a finger on the levers of the decision-making process or even enter the chambers where decisions are made.

Political empowerment of a social group demands due representation in legislatures in proportion to its population and in keeping with democratic principles. It means reform in the electoral system and commitment by the political parties to nurse potential cadres and to field them from winnable constituencies.

On the political front, the report touches only one minor aspect and that too inadequately – the question of reservation of Muslim concentration constituencies for SC/ST. It does not mention the deliberate fragmentation of Muslim concentration pockets into more than one contiguous constituency, which is designed to reduce their political weight. The question of rotation of reservation for SC/ST has long been debated and there is more or less a consensus that such constituency's in a given State or district should cover the highest possible share of their population.

This means that constituencies with the highest SC/ST population should be reserved for them within the overall limit set by their proportion in the State population. Reservation of some Muslim concentration constituencies, which have a higher proportion of Muslims than SC/ST, in lieu of other available constituencies for the SC/ST, makes marginal contribution to under-representation of Muslims.

The Sachar Committee throws up the alternative idea of nomination of minorities to elected bodies but nominations will always mean inclusion of non-representative persons close to the Government of the day; it will not benefit the community nor add to its voice in management and governance. Even the Andhra Pradesh experiment has only marginally added to the representation of the minorities and made little impact.

The committee does recommend inclusion of Muslim Dalits in the list of SCs but they constitute only 1.3 per cent of the Muslim population and it is doubtful whether these sub-communities, which are now listed as OBCs, would fare better in their second home without a sub-categorisation of the SCs which has been buried by the Supreme Court. The real problem is their low population and wide dispersal.

Having rejected summarily the reservation option, the Sachar Committee has adopted the old territorial approach: Special consideration for Muslims in what are called "Muslim concentration districts". It can be easily established by reference to census statistics that whatever the criterion for districts, either in terms of Muslim proportion of district population (20 per cent or above) or minimum Muslim population in the district (say 400,000 and above). Further, even in a fair selection for development benefits or educational seats or Government jobs or bank credit, Muslims of these districts on the whole will not receive 25 per cent of the outlay.

It may be added that the territorial approach has other inbuilt limitations. In a communally charged society with sparse economy, with demand exceeding the supply, with dominant well-connected groups getting more than their due share, Muslim community last in the queue will not receive a fair share. Also, there may be situations in which the community may not be in a position to field qualified eligible candidates in adequate numbers and its off-take would be reduced.

There has to be a proportionality of approach, which would lead to a much better coverage of the entire community, which is dispersed throughout the country, and which is in fact poorer, less educated and less developed in districts where it has a lower profile by population.

The Sachar Committee should have proposed universalisation of all development and welfare schemes. It will cut out prejudice and will go a long way to remove frustration and sense of deprivation not only among Muslims but also among all economically weak and politically powerless groups. But universalisation will depend upon availability of resources, inadequacy would imply selection among potential beneficiaries and would lead to injustice, decentralisation and financial devolution down to the panchayat level which will ensure, if not immediately, over the years, equitable distribution of resources of benefits among various sections of the people because of transparency and immediacy. The committee has not considered the impact of panchayati raj on minorities and weaker sections.

It is regrettable that the Sachar Committee has in Box 2.1 (page 10) misquoted Article 15 to put Muslims out of reservation by omitting the critical word 'only' from the text of the sub-Article 15(1). In fact, sub-Article 15(1) prohibits both religion-based and caste-based discrimination; but it permits both, if a religious community or a caste group is found to constitute a backward class under Sub-Article 15(4). The same word 'only' plays a critical role in Article 16 (2).

The committee should have collected data on benefits to the Muslim community under the Mandal regime, State by State and under the Union to find out if Muslims have got their notional share of 4.2 per cent. If it is found that they have not, this would strengthen the argument for a separate sub-quota within OBC quota.

It may be added that the committee has suggested reconciliation discrepancies between identity of Muslim OBCs in various State lists and the Central list. Co
mmon list would bring roughly 3/4th of Muslim population within OBCs and a sub-quota for the Muslim community or for specified sub-communities so listed would mean a step forward.

The Sachar Committee visited many State capitals and held dialogue with representatives of Muslim community and received many memoranda, which have been summarised in chapter two dealing with public perception. Although the committee reaches a balanced view that "all perceptions are not correct but they also not built in vacuum", the report unfortunately adopts an apologetic and diffident tone in dealing "with Muslim perceptions of the problems they face".

To any objective observer, the submissions made by Muslim community represent no more than the tip of the iceberg. They have been useful to the committee in gauging the mental state of the community and the social environment in which it lives. The committee should have analysed the submissions, come to its own conclusions after checking them against evidence it collected otherwise and nailed down the exaggeration or imagination, but owned the rest as fact and used them in reaching its conclusions and suggesting remedial measures.

In sum, for development and empowerment of the Muslim community, there is no other viable road except its recognition as a backward class, or a set of backward classes, and provision of a sub-quota within the OBC quota. However, due representation in legislatures in proportion to their population on par with the SC/ST will need a constitutional amendment. The Sachar Committee, unfortunately, neither explores the reservation option for economic progress nor the higher-representation in Union and State legislatures for political empowerment.

Source: The Pioneer, 11 Jan. 07