UPA plans to double number of minority concentrated districts

New Delhi: In an apparent move to woo the minorities ahead of Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh in 2012, Congress-led UPA is planning to double the number of minority concentrated districts (MCDs) in the state for all round development of the section.

Union Minister Salman Khurshid, who was elevated to Cabinet rank in yesterday`s reshuffle of Union Council of Ministers, said that any increase in expenditure for the development of minorites living in MCDs was possible only if the number of such districts increased.

"We are trying to bring down the cut-off percentage of Muslim population in a district from 25 per cent to 15 per cent to give it status of an MCD. We will place our proposals in this regard before the Planning Commission.

"We are hopeful that we would be able to double the number of such districts in Uttar Pradesh. We have already declared 21 districts of the state as MCDs and will be able to add 21 more if the cut-off population percentage was lowered," Khurshid, who holds the additional charge of Minority Affairs, told reporters here.

Khurshid said that the total number of MCDs in the country will go up to 150 from the existing 90 if the cut-off mark is reduced.

West Bengal which goes to the polls this year has around 25 per cent Muslim population. Sources say that a large number of districts from West Bengal where elections are slated this year, will also be benefitted with this reduction in cut-off mark. Currently 12 districts of West Bengal are MCDs.

Khurshid was speaking to the media after taking charge of his new ministry of Water Resources, which he described as a "challenging one", saying "its profile needs to be expanded".

The minister had been twice the PCC chief of Uttar Pradesh, where Congress is out in the cold for close to last 30 years but is sensing an opportunity for revival after its spectacular performance in the last Lok Sabha elections.

The party which could not cross the double digit mark in 2004 Lok Sabha elections increased its tally to 22 seats in the 2009 general elections and minorities played a key role in Congress revival in the state, where it had become insignificant post the Mandal-Mandir politics.

Muslims constitute around 19 per cent of the population in this most populated state of the country.

To a question about the message sent to minorites by the reshuffle which saw minority affairs ministry now being looked after by a Cabinet rank minister as well as appointment of a separate Minister of State (MoS) as addition, Khurshid said, "The presence of an MoS as well for minority affairs sends a very powerful message. It shows how seriously we are taking up minority welfare in the country."

The list of 90 MCDs in the country was prepared on the basis of 2001 census on the basis of population, socio-economic indicators and basic amenties indicators.

These districts are backward with unacceptable low levels of either socio-economic or basic amenities indicators.

25 per cent population of any or all minorities together is needed to give any such district MCD status for which special funds are earmarked by government.

To a question on whether he feels that the much talked about Equal Opportunity Commission should look after interest of all disadvantaged sections instead of only minorities, Khurshid said, "I feel that is what we should do."

He, at the same time hastened to add that the GoM looking into the issue had made a different recommendation.

"The matter is now with the Prime Minister. We have to wait for his guidance," he said refusing to make any further comment on the matter.

Setting up of an EOC, a recommendation of the Sachar Committee, which went into the socio-economic status of Muslims and other minorities, was a promise made by the ruling Congress in its election manifesto.

In its orginal scheme of things, EOC was to be an omnibus body to look after the grievances of all disadvantaged groups in both private and public sector through prescribing diversity indices to institutions to ensure that all sections of the society get equal opportunity in their respective fields of employment and education.

However, even as Minority Affairs Ministry stuck to its stand that the mandate of EOC should not be limited, the GoM headed by Defence Minister A K Antony decided that it should be an exclusive minority affairs issue as various ministries felt EOC“s proposed structure impinges on their mandate.

Listing out his priority for augmenting the Minority Affairs Ministry, Khurshid said he has made proposals for augmenting the staff strength of the ministry and is hopeful that these would be approved.

He said that the appointment of Vincent Pala as MoS will help him launch a "double barrel attack" on the obstructions faced by his ministry.

Asked about Planning Commission`s decision rejecting all the four new schemes mooted by his ministry for the current finacial year, Khurshid said he was discussing the issue with the Commission.

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