In April 2018, Niti Aayog identified Mewat, a district in the National Capital Region that was renamed Nuh two years ago, the most backward district of India. For the past ten years, both BJP- and Congress-led governments have allotted crores of funds on welfare programmes to “uplift” the district. But these programmes appear to have had negligible impact. In the Niti Aayog report, 101 districts were assessed on 49 development indicators such as health, education, agriculture, financial inclusion, skill development, and basic infrastructure, and Nuh scored 26 percent—the lowest across the country.
I witnessed the extent of Nuh’s socio-economic backwardness during my visits to villages in two taluks of the district—Nuh Rural and Punhana. Despite a decade of implementation of district development programmes, the residents of these villages are struggling to access basic facilities such as clean drinking water, monthly supply of ration, and pensions. It is evident that the government programmes to uplift the region have failed, not only because of their inefficient implementation, but more importantly, due to a fundamentally flawed approach to address the socio-economic backwardness in Nuh.
In 2008, Nuh was one of the 90 districts selected for the Multi-Sectoral Development Programme, or MSDP, which was conceived as a response to the findings of the Sachar Committee that there were large inequalities in education, employment and earnings between Indian Muslims and other demographic groups. The MSDP aimed to develop districts with a concentration of minorities that were socio-economically backward. Around 79 percent of Nuh’s population comprises Muslims, and a majority of them are Meo-Muslims—a minority community that follows parts of both Islamic and Hindu customs. Funds worth Rs 4043.61 lakh were sanctioned for Nuh under the 11th Five-Year Plan. The 12th Five-Year Plan (2012–17) approved Rs 6531.90 for the district under MSDP, which was renamed as the Pradhan Mantri Jan Vikas Karyakram under the current regime.
The minority affairs ministry does not have data on the total number of minority families, in Nuh and across the country, living below poverty line or those benefited by these projects. While it is impossible to comprehensively analyse the impact the welfare schemes have had on minorities, the available data is sufficient to conclude that it has been negligible. A report by the parliamentary standing committee on social justice and empowerment published in August this year is telling of this lack of impact. In its concluding remarks, the report notes, “The Committee find that the NITI AAYOG has declared 20 Most Backward Districts of the country which includes 11 Muslim Concentration Districts too. The Committee are shocked to note that these 11 Districts were also included in the list of 90 MCDs under MsDP since it was initially launched in 2008- 2009 and they still exist in 308 districts of minority concentration areas.” There has also been no meeting under the chairmanship of the cabinet secretary to discuss the Prime Minister’s 15 Point Programme for Welfare of Minorities, an umbrella development programme initiated in 2005, in the last four years.
Nuh lies 57 kilometers away from Gurugram, a financial and industrial hub in southern Haryana, and is a three-hour drive away from the national capital. Gurugram has the third-highest per capita income in India. On the journey from Delhi to Nuh, through Gurugram, as the cityscape gives way to large swathes of green fields and settlements of farm workers and daily wage labourers, the differences between them become evident.