The coverage of the UPA government's flagship infrastructural development programme being implemented in 90 districts with large minority populations is set for a huge expansion. The scheme is being recast, with blocks replacing districts as the basic unit of planning to ensure more focused targeting.
As part of the revamp of the multi-sectoral development programme, the Minority Affairs Ministry has identified 776 blocks with significant minority population spread across 196 districts, up from the present 90. With some last minute additions, the number may go up to 800 blocks and coverage of districts is expected to increase to about 200.
Minority Affairs Minister K Rahman Khan said the process of identification of blocks was in the last stage.
In the past, there have been demands for revamping the special area development scheme from several quarters, including parliamentary standing committee and the Planning Commission. The parliamentary panel had pointed out that the scheme in its present form does not focus entirely on the minority population as many of the 90 districts have blocks and villages which have high non-minority population. It had argued that due to this, the benefits envisaged for the minority population was flowing to non-minority population in the selected districts.
Besides, the eligibility criteria for selecting districts with significant minority population resulted in omission of several districts that have many pockets of minority concentration. For instance, not a single district in Andhra Pradesh, which has a significant Muslim population, figures in the scheme.
The Planning Commission had noted that the the programme left out huge minority areas, including towns, urban conglomerates and isolated villages and hamlets.
The ministry, however, is not in a mood to relax the eligibility criteria. At present, districts with 25 per cent minority population qualify for the scheme. Those with 20-25 per cent minority population can also be considered, provided the total minority population is 5 lakh or more. “Let us do this first,” Khan said.