At the outset, the scholarship policy was incorporated by the lawmakers to provide conditions for fuller development of the disadvantaged class. The rationale was to uplift the under privileged by treating them a special class on the basis of intelligible differentia. The government has provided for various scholarships for the student community across the nation.
One such fellowship was launched in 2009. The Maulana Azad Fellowship scheme was a five-year fellowship to be provided by the Central government. It provides financial assistance to the six notified minority communities i.e., Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Jain, Parsi and Sikh, to pursue M. Phil and PhDs.
Government scrapping the minority scholarship
The Union Minority Affairs Minister Smriti Irani on the second day of the ongoing Winter Session announced that the Centre has decided to discontinue the Maulana Azad National Fellowship, a scholarship for students from minority communities, from this academic year.
The scheme covered all the universities and institutions that had been recognized by the University Grants Commission (UGC). The scholarship policy for the minorities was started by the UPA government, following the recommendations of the Sachar Committee in the year 2009.
The Union Minister catechized the policy as discriminatory as the beneficiaries of the scholarship scheme were already covered under the broader preview of the UGC NET- JRF scholarship. Therefore, providing the Maulana Azad Fellowship to the students who have already been covered under the UGC NET-JRF scholarship cannot be said to be an appropriate criterion.
The Minister stated that the MANF scheme overlaps with various other fellowship schemes for higher education. And minority students are already covered under such schemes; hence the government has decided to discontinue the MANF Scheme from the academic year 2022-23.
Maulana Azad Scholarship Scheme
The Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad Scholarship is offered by Maulana Azad Education Foundation, established in the year 2003-04. The foundation falls under the Ministry of Minority Affairs, Government of India.
The scholarship is primarily focused around providing financial assistance to the six minority classes in India. The Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis, and Jains applicants with annual income below Rs. 2.5 lakh per annum were provided INR 25,000 per month for two years under JRF and INR 28,000 per month under SRF categories upon qualification.
The move of the government received serious criticism from the leaders of the opposition parties. The Congress MP TN Prathapan was quick to retort to the stance of the government as he equated the quashing of the scholarship policy with injustice. However, the Union Minister bombarded the opposition as she refuted the claim. She said that the MANF scheme was implemented by the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the official data suggests that 6,722 candidates were selected under the scheme between 2014-15 and 2021-22.
The UGC had therefore, provided fellowships to the tune of Rs. 738.85 crores, during this period under the said scheme. She categorically highlighted that the government had to bear an additional cost of hundreds of crores, despite the students being covered under the UGC NET JRF fellowship scheme.
The move of ending the MANF scheme by the government can be said to be in harmony with the equality clause enshrined under the Constitution. The alleged scheme provided an additional mechanism to the students of the minority communities at the disadvantage of the unreserved students by providing double scholarship cover.
Vision of the government
The purpose of the government in scrapping the Maulana Azad Fellowship is to bring to reality the vision ‘Sabka Sath Sabka Vikas, Par Tushtikaran Kisi ka Nahi’. The move highlights the minorities in India would no longer benefit from appeasement policies of the government.
The government seeks to provide equality in opportunity to every citizen irrespective of the religious affiliations. That is to say that the welfare policies that have earlier been encroached upon by the appeasement are getting rectified by the current regime. The government by this step has indicated that it is inclined towards correcting the previous policies that eclipsed welfare with appeasement of the political bracket.
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