India to have equal opportunity commission

London, June 19 (IANS) A high-level Indian delegation led by Minister for Minority Affairs K. Rahman Khan met senior British ministers and officials to formulate the framework of an equal opportunity commission for India.

Minister Khan and his delegation, that included Joint Secretary Y P Singh, met Eric Pickles, secretary of state for communities and local government, Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve, chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and Equal Opportunity commission, and Hugo Swire, secretary of state for foreign affairs of Britain.

The formation of a commission for India's minorities, which constitute about 18.4 percent of the population, is one of the recommendations of the Rajinder Sachar Committee. A bill towards the constitution of the Equal Opportunity Commission of India will be tabled in the next parliament session.

The Sachar Committee, appointed in 2005 by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, exposed the backwardness of Indian Muslims.

The committee revealed that the status of Indian Muslims is below the conditions of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and the overall percentage of Muslims in bureaucracy in India is just 2.5 percewnt whereas Muslims constitute above 14 percent of India's population.

To ensure equity and equality of opportunities to Indian Muslims in residential, work and educational sectors, the committee had proposed multiple suggestions to be adopted, with suitable mechanisms. The formation of the National Minorities Development and Finance Corporation (NMDFC) was one among them.

About 14 percent of the British population belongs to black and ethnic minority communities.

Indians comprise the largest ethnic community in Britain (1.8 percent), followed by Pakistanis (1.5 percent) and Bangladeshis (0.5 percent), black Caribbeans (1 percent) and Irish (1.2 percent).

The EHRC has responsibility for the promotion and enforcement of equality and non-discrimination laws in Britain.

"The new commission will ensure equal opportunity for religious minorities to access education, employment opportunities at the government services and accessing financial assistance for entrepreneurs to launch businesses," Khan said.

"Britain is a role model for democratic countries to integrate different ethnic and faith groups to mainstream of the society. New immigrants are getting proper training in language and skills to get jobs and merge with the society."

The Indian minister also praised Britain's initiative to preserve the faiths and traditions of immigrant communities. A network of religious bodies, charities and government agencies are ensuring the glory of multi-cultural Britain.

Regarding the huge number of returnees from the Gulf countries, most of whom belong to the religious minorities in India, the minister said that the NMDFC is offering micro-loans for Gulf returnees to begin a new life.

The minister, who also handles the Waqf portfolio, said the government will bring a new law to take back the encroached Waqf lands from individuals and institutions.

"The government is planning to form a National Waqf Development Corporation to handle the Waqf properties and the earnings will be utilised for the education of Muslim children especially girls," Khan told Asian Lite newspaper here.

"Education is the key to success and the new corporation will ensure enough financial assistance for bright students to chase their dreams."

Unofficial figures show there are about 400,000 acres of Waqf land across India.

(Anasudhin Azeez can be contacted at md@asianlite.com)