Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s budget allocations for welfare of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes severely falls short even as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) never gets tired of extolling the late BR Ambedkar to strike a soft chord among Dalits, finds Junaid Kathju
As debate rages on over the treatment of the marginalised in the country by successive governments at the Centre, the annual budgetary allocation has once again overlooked the interest of the backward class. This comes at a time when the Narendra Modi Government is seen enthusiastically extolling the virtues of Dr BR Ambedkar, the Father of Indian Constitution, who championed the cause of the backward class, Dalits in particular.
The total plan outlay in the Budget was Rs 5.5 lakh crore, out of which Rs 38,833 crore has been allocated to Special Component Plan (SCP) for Scheduled Castes at 7.6 percent while Rs 24,005 crore allocated to Tribal Sub Plan (TSP) for Scheduled Tribes at 4.36 percent.
The figures are in complete contrast to the guidelines for budgetary allocations. The revised guidelines issued in 2014 state that 16.2 percent for SCP and 8.6 percent for TSP from the plan outlay should be earmarked under the schemes or programmes that benefit the SC/ST community.
As per the Supreme Court guidelines, budgetary allocation should be proportionate to the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe population. The SCSP plan outlay, at the current projection, is approximately over Rs 82,643 crore for SCs and Rs 42,815 crore for Tribals.
To make things worse, Jaitely, at his eloquent best, allocated a meagre Rs 500 crore for Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribes and women entrepreneurs under the Start-Up India scheme.
This is not the first time when efforts to bring the backward class at par with other sections of society has been undermined. Dalits and tribals have been subjected to worst forms of social oppression and economic exploitation. More than 68 years after gaining Independence, Dalits who form a large chunk of the scheduled castes remain the most marginalised community in the country.
However, to blame only the current dispensation would not be a fair as over the years successive governments have shown apathy towards the plight of the SC and ST. Only the extent of indifference has been varying slightly.
The National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR), a forum seeking to eliminate caste discrimination, in its latest findings reveal that over the past five years an average about 8.5 percent of the total Budget has been allocated for SC community as opposed to the designated 16.2 percent.
Let us have a look at the amount disbursed towards the welfare of SC/ST in the past few years:
It is analysed that Rs 3,91,027crore was the amount of total plan out of which only Rs 8036.19 crore reached the SC community and about Rs 6887.28 crore to ST community. As per the procedure, the due allocation should have been Rs 64910.5 crore for SC and about Rs 33628.32 crore for ST.
The total plan outlay in the Budget was Rs 4,19,068 crore out of which due allocation should have been Rs 69,565 crore for SC and about Rs 36,040 crore for ST but only Rs10,591.14 crore was expected to reach the SC community and about Rs. 8,423.30 reached the ST community.
Out of the total plan outlay of Rs 5,75,000 crore, only Rs 10,689.90 crore was allocated to SC and Rs 8516.75 crore reached the ST community. The actual numbers should have been Rs43,208.08 crore and Rs 32,184.23 respectively.
These figures clearly indicate that there has never been population proportionate allocation in the past 5 years. The actual allocation that directly benefited the community is only an average of about 1.6 percent for SC and 1.3 percent for ST.
In 2015-16 fiscal year Rs 77,236 crore was allocated to Scheduled Castes and Rs 40,014 crore to Tribals. However, the data shows that only Rs 30,851 crore was allocated to Special Component Plan and Rs 20,000 crore to Tribal Sub Planas as per revised estimates.
Interestingly, even out of this, only Rs 8,793 crore was directed specifically towards the development of SCP, as per the guidelines of the Planning Commission, while Rs 7,399 crore was directed to TSP.
Moreover, 60 percent of the funds for TSP were under ‘general allocation’ while in the case of SCP, it was 65 percent for the fiscal year 2015-16.
In the report, NCDHR states that apart from few ministries, majority of them didn’t allocate funds for TSP and SCP.
Out of the 108 ministries and departments, only 23 made allocations to SC under SCP. Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has allocated the highest (79%) while the lowest allocation was by Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (2%). Important ministries like Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, Department of Panchayati Raj, Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, Department of AIDS Control have zero allocation under SCSP.
Even out of the 23 departments and ministries allocating under SCSP, only 12 departments/ministries are allocating a significant percentage in between 12percent to 22 percent.
In 2015-16 out of total 302 schemes under SCSP only 26 schemes were targeted while in TSP out of 318 schemes only 22 schemes were launched.
Where Does The Money Go?
National Co-ordinator of NCDHR, Beena Pallical said that a large amount of funds under SCSP-TSP are diverted towards general programmes and schemes, which are not specially designed for SCs and STs.
“The practice is going on for years now without any accountability. Most of the SCSP/TSP funds have been diverted for other purposes such as expenditure on the construction of roads, bridges, stadiums, buildings and other state-owned assets like hospitals, flyovers and engineering colleges,” Pallical said.
To cite an example, Rs 744 Crores from SCSP-TSP was diverted to cover the costs of the 2010 Commonwealth Games. In 2010-11, funds were diverted for Ring Road projects, salaries of college teachers, video conferencing facilities at Mandal Headquarters and so on.
In 2011-12, funds were diverted towards Government advertisements in print media, assistance to Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (APSRTC) and in 2012-13for projects like Hussain Sagar Lake Catchment Area Improvement Project and Hyderabad Metro Rail Project.
As per NCDHR findings, many ministries and departments make huge amounts of ‘national’ allocations in the Union Budget, which are mere paper figures and do not flow through special schemes directly benefitting SCs or STs. These include salary, administrative, construction and miscellaneous expenses.
The report also mentions that most of the direct benefit schemes are for survival, and not for development or empowerment or to bridge the gap.
Survival implies that the schemes are only catering to the basic needs like nutrition, or just an adequate standard of living rather than focus on Rural Development, Agriculture and Allied Services, Industry and Mineral, Science, Technology and Environment and Transport.
Chairman of National Commission for Scheduled Castes Dr P L Punia said that this is not the first time that the budget towards the welfare for Scheduled Castes has been reduced.
“Last time also there was a reduction of Rs 20,000 crore which comes to 7.6 percent less than the required funds. Even though there is an increment of Rs 8000 crore in this budget, it is still well below than the requirement,” said Punia.
He pointed out that this has been raised with successive governments but nobody has paid any heed.
“The matter will be discussed in the on-going parliamentary session by the concerned MPs. We raise this issue every time but it is the Government who has to show sincerity to take the corrective measures,” he added.
Meanwhile, despite several attempts, no official from Department of Social Justice and Empowerment was willing to talk about the matter.
For long, the backward and marginalised in this country have been short-changed. But can India emerge as global superpower by building monuments celebrating its icons like Ambedkar while a large chunk of the country’s population lives in darkness?