27 Apr 2018 18:25 IST

Justice Sachar’s long-forgotten report

A file photo of Justice Rajinder Sachar presenting the Sachar Committee report to the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in November 2006 | RV Moorthy BL on Campus

Rajinder Sachar’s report on socio-economic conditions among the Muslims made pragmatic recommendations

The news of the passing away of legal luminary Justice Rajinder Sachar was tucked away in a corner in most newspapers. Justice Sachar was a former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court but more than that, he was a tireless crusader of human rights. He was associated with the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, a major human rights watchdog in the country.

In recent times, Justice Sachar came to be known more for his report on the socio-economic conditions of the Muslim community in India. The UPA government, after it came to power in 2004, had tasked him with looking into this. In a bid to burnish its secular credentials, the UPA, on March 9, 2005, formed a high-level committee to look into the socio-economic and education status of Muslims in India.

It was Justice Sachar who headed this seven-member committee and painstakingly produced and submitted the report in late 2006. The idea behind the report was to collate and analyse all the information available, which would then enable the government to come up with schemes to improve the socio-economic conditions of the largest religious minority group in the country.

The report

Sadly, like many other well-intentioned reports, this one too ended up gathering dust in government offices.

The committee gathered information and conducted surveys on a number of socio-economic indices — the State, district, block-wise density of the Muslim population; the pattern of their economic activity; the asset base and income levels of Muslims vis-à-vis other groups; the status of their socio-economic development — literacy rate, infant mortality rate, maternal mortality rate, school dropout rate and others, and whether these differed across regions and States.

It also looked at their share in private and public sector employment; the share of OBCs within the Muslim community and whether they enjoyed the benefits of reservations across States; and the access that the Muslim community has to health and educational facilities.

At the perception level, the committee noted that the Muslims suffered from the paradoxical charge of being ‘anti-national’ and being ‘appeased’ at the same time.

The conclusions

One of the major conclusions that the committee came to was that fertility rates across socio-religious groups had fallen. The literacy rate among the Muslim community was lower than the national average and the gap was greatest in urban centres. Crucially, the report concluded that the gap between Muslims and other communities increased as the level of education rose. Also, the unemployment rate among Muslim graduates was the highest among all communities and interestingly, this held across all income categories.

On employment, the report noted: “The most striking feature is the relatively high share of Muslim workers engaged in self-employment activity,” primarily in urban areas and for women workers. “Participation of Muslim salaried workers in both the public and private sectors is quite low (as is true for SCs/STs), and the average salary of Muslim workers is lower than others (possibly, as more Muslims are in inferior jobs)”.

The community also formed a higher percentage of workers in the informal sector. The report noted that the share of Muslims in government departments was ‘abysmally low at all levels’. “There is not one State in which the representation of Muslims in government departments matches their population share”. Their share was also quite low in universities, public sector banks and PSUs. Access to bank credit too was quite low among this community and the report said this has crucial implications for the community’s educational and economic upliftment.

Other issues

The report also said that the Muslim community ‘faces fairly high levels of poverty’, similar to that of other disadvantaged communities like SC and STs. Though 40.7 per cent of Muslims are categorised as OBCs, forming 15.7 per cent of the total OBC population, the benefits of reservation and affirmative action are yet to reach them.

From the political and ‘public perception’ point of view, the Sachar report effectively demolishes the ‘Muslim appeasement’ theory. Of course, it is a different matter that a disturbingly large number of Indians still believe that the community continues to be ‘appeased’.

Recommendations

The main recommendations of the committee were:

(i) Set up an Equal Opportunity Commission to look into grievances of deprived groups like minorities.

(ii) Create a nomination procedure to increase participation of minorities in public bodies.

(iii) Establish a delimitation procedure that does not reserve constituencies with high minority population for SCs.

(iv) Increase employment share of Muslims, particularly where there is more of public dealing. Work out mechanisms to link madrasas with the higher secondary school board.

(v) Recognise degrees from madrasas for eligibility in defence, civil and banking examinations.

That 12 years after the report was submitted, there has hardly been any improvement of the socio-economic conditions of India’s largest religious minority community, is a damning indictment of both the Central and State governments.

Here, the UPA government deserves greater blame as it was in power for close to eight years after the Sachar committee report was submitted and still did nothing for the community. If the UPA had acted on the committee’s recommendations and shown some positive outcomes on the ground, ‘secularism’ would not have been such a tainted word in today’s India, sadly associated with only vote-catching.

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