By Paritosh Chakma
Tugged in a corner in the Directorate of Information and Public Relations, Government of Mizoram’s website are two interviews given by Chief Minister Lalthanhawla to two magazines in which he listed his vision for a prosperous Mizoram.
“Mizoram of my dream is a vibrant, prosperous State where peace prevails and the people, irrespective of caste, creed or religion, live side by side in harmony and prosperity” – he proudly announces in an interview with North East Sun magazine, 15 January 2010. (http://dipr.mizoram.gov.in/uploads/featured_magazine/file1.PDF)
But how can prosperity of its people “irrespective of caste, creed or religion” take place when the state structure is seemingly working against its own minorities? In a State like Mizoram where religions identify the ethnicity of its people (for example, Mizos and its sub groups are Christians, Chakmas are Buddhists, half of Brus are Hindus), ethnic considerations can easily become religious divisions and vice versa. This in turn affects the way the government funds are being spent.
II. Minority funds are diverted
In 2008, the Government of India introduced Multi-sectoral Development Plan (MsDP) to address the “development deficits” in the minority concentrated districts of India. The Ministry of Minority Affairs selected 90 Minority Concentrated Districts (MCDs) in 20 states/UTs which “have a substantial minority population and are backward, with unacceptably low levels of socio-economic or basic amenities indicators, requiring focused attention and specific programme intervention.” The Central Government provides funds to “address the ‘development deficits’ that were either not met fully by existing schemes/programmes or catered to by any scheme/programme of the State or Central Government.” Amongst the 90 Minority Concentrated Districts are two Mizoram districts namely Mamit and Lawngtlai. (http://www.minorityaffairs.gov.in/sites/upload_files/moma/files/pdfs/mcd_90districts.pdf) The schemes and programmes for poverty alleviation, education, health and other welfare schemes of government are focused in these districts.
The “Minority” in India is defined under the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992 as “a community notified as such by the Central Government”. The Central government notified five minority communities – Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists and Parsis. In some states, a minority community may be in majority and its members can enjoy the fruits of development in all spheres because of its dominance in polity, bureaucracy, social and economic prowess. Therefore, in order to ensure the equitable development of “the other minorities” in those certain states, the government of India made some special provisions for “the other minorities” in the implementation of some of its schemes in those states.
One such scheme is the Multi-sectoral Development Plan (MsDP). At Para 1.7 (viii) of the MsDP Guidelines,(http://www.minorityaffairs.gov.in/sites/upload_files/moma/files/pdfs/dist_planprep_guide.pdf) it is unequivocally provided that “In the minority concentration districts in the States of Jammu and Kashmir, Meghalaya and Mizoram, where a minority community is in majority, the schemes and programmes should be focused on the other minorities.”
However, this very crucial note escaped notice for a long time in the case of Mizoram where the state government systematically deprived the “non-Christian” minorities of benefits of MsDP scheme. The trend continued and continues even today but for an intervention before the NHRC by an NGO on behalf of the Buddhist minority, the Mizoram government today has been forced to do a re-think.
While clarifying the doubts about the applicability of the MsDP in Mizoram, the Ministry of Minority Affairs (MoMA) vide letter No. 3/16(2)/2008-PP-I dated 13 May 2011 informed that “The focus for the minority concentration districts of Lawngtlai and Mamit in Mizoram would be for minority communities (Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis) other than the one in majority (Christians) in that State.”
Therefore, there should be little doubt with respect to the intended beneficiaries of the Central funds in Mizoram under MsDP. The Census of 2001 makes it clear that the actual beneficiaries of minority funds in Mizoram should be mainly the Buddhists. And, Buddhists in both Mamit and Lawngtlai districts are the Chakmas. As per Census 2001, in Mamit district, Christians constitute 80.53%, Buddhists 13.66%, Muslims 1.75% and Sikhs 0.04% while in Lawngtlai district, Buddhists constitute 52.17%, Christians 44.66%, Muslims 0.31% and Sikhs 0.1%
But Mizoram has a unique mechanism to scuttled development of non-Christian minorities. In recent months, evidence to prove that minority funds have been diverted to non-minority areas (under MsDP) have come to the fore and lies of the Mizoram government nailed.
The responses of the Mizoram government were bizarre. First it sought to provide “incomplete” information about the locations of the projects when grilled by the MoMA. When fund diversions were established, Mizoram government took the position that “claiming of the benefits of Multi-sectoral Development Programme Schemes by only one section of the minority community i.e. Buddhists may not be fair and just.” But Mizoram government should know that this position is antithetical to the very purpose of the MsDP. Yet, interestingly, Mizoram government did not oppose the MsDP Guidelines, including Para 1.7 (viii) which excluded the Christians, and always got the projects approved on the condition that the projects will be implemented in villages/habilitations having the largest concentration of minorities! However, once the funds are released, the projects are implemented in non-minority areas. Worst, the Ministry of Minority Affairs has no mechanism to verify the location of the projects and it sanctioned the funds solely on good faith which the Mizoram government betrayed.
Second, the state government of Mizoram highly exaggerated the population of Muslims and mysterious “others” in order to justify the projects in Christian areas. The officials have quoted the population figure not as per any official records like Census report but as per their whims and fancies.
Third, Mizoram government has shown substantial Buddhist population in several locations where there are no Buddhists at all.
Fourth, wherever lies could not be concealed, the Mizoram government plainly admitted the guilt. In its letter to the Ministry of Minority Affairs, the Secretary to the Government of Mizoram, Social Welfare Department, vide letter No. A.14014/78/2010-SWD dated 8th June 2011 has submitted a list of “Villages/Locations at Lawngtlai district where the Desired Percentage of Minority Population are not Attained”. The list included 12 villages selected for construction of Anganwadi Centres, 9 villages selected for construction of additional classrooms, girls’ hostel at Lawngtlai town, 3 villages selected for construction of health facilities, and 10 villages selected for Indira Awas Yojana.
Example of fund diversion: The case of Girls Hostel at Lawngtlai town
The MsDP Empowered Committee in the Ministry of Minority Affairs at its 38th Meeting approved construction of two girls’ hostels respectively at Lawngtlai town (district headquarter) and Kamala Nagar (headquarter of Chakma Autonomous District Council) in Lawngtlai district. The girls’ hostel at Lawngtlai town was approved based on the false claim of the Mizoram government that Lawngtlai town has “more than 30% minority population of Buddhist community”.
However, it was pointed out by the NGO that were only six Buddhist families consisting of about 25 persons (0.13% of Lawngtlai’s population) living in Lawngtlai town.
Not knowing how to defend its case, the Mizoram government pleaded with the Ministry of Minority Affairs that the proposed 50-beded girls’ hostel at Lawngtlai town “will also cater to the need of accommodation of minority communities who often visit the district headquarters for medical treatments and other official purposes.” This is despite fact the hostel is totally an educational project which is clearly mentioned at the 38th Empowered Committee (EC) Meeting whose minutes stated, “It was confirmed that these hostels would be located in the premises of Government schools and will be used only by school students.”
Mizoram also brought down the minority population of Lawngtlai town (despite clubbing together “Buddhists, Muslims and others population”) to 15% from earlier 30% of “Buddhist” alone. The Ministry of Minority Affairs sought a clarification as to what communities constituted the “others” and kept the project “on hold”. The Mizoram government came out with the reply on 8 June 2011 that the term “Others” was meant for Santals and Gorkhas but itself clarified that “on verification it is found that the percentage of population projected could not be acceptable because Santals are not recognized Minority Community.”
III. “No” to inclusivity
The state government of Mizoram has firmly resisted any attempt to promote inclusivity. It has been resisting the setting up of State Minority Commission as desired by the National Minority Commission. In a response, the Mizoram government told the NCM that “the State is not in a position to set up neither State Minorities Commission nor Minority Cell as the entire populace of the State comprises of mostly tribals”! (http://ncm.nic.in/pdf/Agenda%20%202011.pdf ) This is an absurd argument, for the simple reason that the proposed State Minority Commission will be for the protection and promotion of the rights of the minorities, not of the tribals per se.
The Buddhists, who are the second largest minority in Mizoram, after the Christians, lack representation in the selection committees/commissions such as Mizoram Public Service Commission. One of Prime Minister’s New 15 Point Programme for the Welfare of Minorities relates to “Recruitment to State and Central Services” which states that “In the recruitment of police personnel, State Governments will be advised to give special consideration to minorities. For this purpose, the composition of selection committees should be representative.” (http://www.minorityaffairs.gov.in/sites/upload_files/moma/files/pdfs/pm15points_eguide.pdf )
But when asked about measures taken by Mizoram to include a member belonging to the minority community in selection committees for public appointments, the Mizoram government gave this absurd response - “No community is declared as Minority in Mizoram and inclusion of a Member belonging to the Minority Community in Selection Committee for Public appointments etc. could not be entertained by the Government of Mizoram.” (http://ncm.nic.in/pdf/Agenda%20%202011.pdf )
The question is: if there is no Minority community in Mizoram, for whom are the Minority Scholarships and minority funds received every year from the Central government?
Yet, no one has taken the Mizoram officials to tasks for such illogical, absurd and irresponsible responses.
One thing is therefore very clear: when it comes to the rights of the minorities (read the non-Christians), the state government denies existence of any minority community within Mizoram, but when it comes to receiving Central funds, the Mizoram government will not mind even inflating the population of Muslims and Buddhists in areas where theren’t Buddhists or Muslims.
Will it therefore be correct to conclude that to exclude members of the minorities other than those in majority is a State-sponsored policy in Mizoram?
Postscript: In an interview to NAMASKAAR magazine, Chief Minister Lalthanhawl has stated, “I plan to have Mizoram grow into a model state.” (http://dipr.mizoram.gov.in/uploads/featured_magazine/file2.pdf ) If that is the dream of our leader, then surely the ongoing systematic exclusion of the non-Christian minorities from the developmental process as part of State-sponsored policy must go.