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'We are a letter-writing ministry'
Why is the ministry of minority affairs considered an ineffective ministry?
The problem is that the work that the ministry should be doing hasn't been given to us yet. The annual Haj pilgrimage is still with the external affairs ministry, the human resources development ministry oversees all minority education institutions and madarsas, and many welfare schemes are still with the social justice ministry. If we want to fully justify the existence of this ministry, we will have to ensure that it has the full mandate, that the mandate is deliverable and that it is properly equipped to do so.
Some people feel that the MMA should be wound up.
I was not in favour of this ministry when I was outside government. There are two views on the relevance of MMA. The disadvantage of having a minority ministry is that everybody else thinks they don't have to do anything for the minorities because we are there. But I believe that having it helps to focus more sharply on issues and problems related to the minority communities.
Do you agree that the ministry has not evolved the way it should have?
We've evolved into a letter-writing ministry ! I keep on writing letters to Kapil Sibal (HRD minister), Mukul Wasnik (social justice minister), Pranab Mukherjee (finance minister for banking-related issues for the minorities). Look, there are conceptual issues here. We should have a debate on what the vision for this ministry should be. We have to move beyond conventional thinking. We should be a ministry that can intervene effectively.
What is your vision for the ministry?
My vision is to make it into a ministry for equal opportunities and minority affairs. It should be the nodal body for all disadvantaged groups like internally displaced people such as the Kashmiri Pundits and homosexuals. It should also look after communities like the Jains, Jews, Bahais and so on, which are not defined as minorities under our constitution. The United Kingdom has merged race relations, human rights, and equal opportunities into one body. It's difficult to do this in our country because they become turf issues.
One of the issues that has been raised is the poor utilisation of the funds that you keep releasing for minority welfare projects and programmes. What can you do to ensure that the money is used better?
Since January this year, we have set up national level monitors to track the progress of approved projects and fund utilisation. We have roped in the MPs and MLAs as well. Of course, there are delays. We keep sending officials to the states to push the governments. We are not leaving any stone unturned. Some states have reported good performance, like West Bengal and UP. The problem is that everything is personnel-driven. If there is a good officer, things move.
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