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15% Bengal funds for minorities

15% Bengal funds for minorities

Author: Parwez Hafeez
Publication: The Asian Age
Date: November 22, 2006

The West Bengal government on Tuesday issued a notification saying 15 per cent of the state's budgetary expenditure must be for the benefit and welfare of the minorities.

The notification directs all departments to spend 15 per cent of their budgetary allocations on the minorities. The decision was prompted by the Prime Minister's new 15-Point programme for the Welfare of Minorities. West Bengal will be the first state to implement the programme.

The decision was cleared by the state Cabinet on Tuesday. West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee presided over the Cabinet meeting. The major departments that will spend 15 per cent of fiscal outlay on minority welfare include finance, panchayat, home, urban development, municipal affairs, school education, technical education and power.

Rejecting the suggestion that the government's decision was a sop for the Muslim community, the minister for minorities' development and welfare, Dr Abdus Sattar, said the decision would benefit all minorities, not just Muslims. "In any case,the government sincerely believes that a state cannot progress unless its most vulnerable sections also progress," he added.

The state government is also constituting a 19-member state-level monitoring committee to oversee the implementation of its order. The monitoring body will comprise secretaries of the 16 departments, representatives of NGOs and minority institutions. It will be chaired by Dr Sattar.

Responding to the government notification, Congress Legislature Party leader Manas Bhuinya said the decision was long overdue. Claiming that the minorities, especially Muslims, have remained backward in the state, Mr Bhuinya said: "The Sachar committee report makes it clear that the Muslims of West Bengal are the poorest of the poor and the most backward. The Left Front government merely paid lip service to the Muslims, but did precious little for their upliftment despite being in power for three decades. Now, forced by the Prime Minister's 15-point programme, it is trying to make amends."

The Leader of the Opposition, Mr Partha Chatterjee (Trinamul Congress), said merely issuing the notification was not enough. "The government must ensure the implementation of its order. No one will dispute that there is an urgent need for the upliftment of the minorities and other deprived sections in the state. The only question is why the state government has woken up to this need after 30 years," he said.

The chairman of the state minorities commission, Dr S.S.Z. Adnana, welcomed the government's decision. "This will come as a great help for the minorities as well as for institutions like the minorities commission," he said.

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