After much furore over the announcement of the discontinuation of Maulana Azad National Fellowship by Minister of Minority Affairs Smriti Irani in Lok Sabha, teachers' bodies have alleged that the Centre has drastically reduced other scholarships for other underprivileged communities.
Maulana Azad National Fellowship was awarded by the Ministry of Minority Affairs on the lines of Junior Research Fellowship (JRF) provided by the University Grants Commission. Teachers' groups maintain that the downsizing of the welfare schemes began when the Centre announced in October that it will no longer offer the pre-matric scholarship for minority students from class I to VIII and the Begum Hazrat Mahal National Scholarship for girls from minority communitues.
In its reply, the Centre had said, "The Ministry of Minority Affairs, Government of India has been implementing the Maulana Azad National Fellowship (MANF) Scheme on the lines of the JRF Scheme of UGC and CSIR. The UGC and CSIR Fellowship Schemes are open for candidates of all social categories and communities including minorities. Further, students from minority communities are also covered under National Fellowship Schemes for Scheduled Castes and OBCs implemented by Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment.
In view of the overlap among the aforesaid Schemes, it has been decided to discontinue the MANF Scheme from 2022-23 onward.”
Seema Das, member, Executive Council, Delhi University, told NewsClick that there has been a downward trend for other schemes like National Merit Cum Means Scholarships, National Fellowship for SC Students, Post Matric Scholarship for OBC students, and SHREYAS Scheme.
She said, "The drastic cut in budgetary allocation for the different scholarships for socially and economically weaker students including the minorities is a serious attack on the social justice. NEP 2020 talks of increasing GER but inflicting severe scholarship cuts makes NEP 'big in talk, bang in fund'. The ecosystem of the higher education has been prepared and promoted by the present dispensation in such a manner that the students are being pushed towards the private players on the one hand, while the scholarship cuts are on the rise. This will make access to the quality education difficult for SC, ST, OBC, PwD, minority and girl students."
Das, who is a member of 'Action for Academics and Development Teachers Association', added that the National Means-Cum-Merit Scholarship Scheme and the National Scheme for Incentive to Girl Child for Secondary Education have reduced allocation by 6% (from Rs. 373 crores to Rs. 350 crores 2021-22) and 99% (from Rs.110 crore to Rs. 1 crore) respectively according to the 2020-21 Budget estimates. "Similarly, budgetary cut for the national scheme to incentivise girls from the SC/ST households to enroll and retain through secondary and higher secondary education will have repercussions on the drop-out rate. After a major cut last year, no budget was allocated at all for this scholarship this year,” said Das.
If we look at the pre-matric scholarship scheme for students from Scheduled Castes (SC), offered by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MSJE), its funding has been cut by Rs 225 crore (from Rs 725 crore in 2021-22 to Rs 500 crore in 2022-23). Similarly, allocation for the National Fellowship for SC students has been cut by Rs 127 crore, from Rs 300 crore in 2021-22 to Rs 173 crore in 2022-23.
The allocation for the post-matric scholarship for Other Backward Classes (OBC) students has been cut by Rs 217 crore, from Rs 1,300 crore in 2021-22 to Rs 1,083 crore in 2022-23. For the Scholarships for Higher Education for Young Achievers Scheme (SHREYAS) for SC students, it has been reduced from Rs 450 crore in 2021-22 to Rs 364 crore in 2022-23.
Echoing similar sentiments, Abha Dev Habib, secretary, Democratic Teachers' Front, argued that the logic of an overlap behind the discontinuation of the Maulana Azad National Fellowship does not hold true. Talking to NewsClick over the phone, she said that the overlapping was meant to ensure no deserving student from the underprivileged communities is left behind. She said, "Did you [the government] conduct a survey to find out if people no longer wanted it? Has the poverty vanished from these groups? Sachchar Committee report clearly found that there were startling levels of poverty among religious and linguistic minorities. In any case, the students could get only one scholarship."
She added, "Even the frequency of the National Eligibility Test has come down. Many years ago, I used counsel medical students and the common complaint against girl students was that they already had seats in Lady Irwin college; why were they asking for seats in Maulana Azad Medical College and University College of Medical Sciences (UCMS) where both boys and girls can get admitted? The common expectation is that the Muslims should be either Muslims or OBCs. If girls are getting scholarships, they should assert their singular identity. The logical reasoning for scrapping MANF should be that the community has strengthened enough, but unfortunately, it is not the case. It is systemic withdrawal where government no longer wants to fund education.”