The Union Budget 2018-19 has seen the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) being deprived of their legitimate share in allocations when compared to their share in the population. The shortfall amounts to 80 per cent for SCs and 74 per cent for STs.
The SCs and STs are the most vulnerable social groups in the country, both economically and socially. Certain programmes were initiated decades ago to enable these communities to “catch-up” with other sections of society in terms of their level of material development. Two such programmes are the Tribal Sub Plan (TSP) for STs which was started in 1974, and the Special Component Plan (SCP) for SCs which was initiated in 1979.
As part of these programmes, funds in proportion to the population shares of the SCs and STs were to be allocated by the government while formulating the Budget. According to Census 2011, the population of SCs and STs stood at 16.6 % and 8.6 % respectively.
During his speech as he presented the Union Budget on 1 February 2018, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said, “Economic and social advancement of hard-working people of Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) has received core attention of Government.” He went on to say, “I propose an earmarked allocation of Rs. 56,619 crore for SCs and Rs. 39,135 crore for STs in BE 2018-19.”
But these numbers fall way behind the mandated requirements according to an analysis done by the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights – Dalit Arthik Adhikar Andolan (NCDHR – DAAA).
For the past few years, the NCDHR has been monitoring the budget provisions for the SC/STs and educating policymakers and the general public alike on the issue. This exercise is necessary as the governments at the centre, be it the current BJP-led government or the previous Congress-led government have neglected the development of the SC/STs by refusing to allocate sufficient funds. After civil society organisations started to examine the Budgets and its implementation, some notional amounts are allocated for these communities.
Exhaustive analysis carried out by the NCDHR shows that the allocations in this year’s Union Budget have fallen short by Rs 1,14,717 crores for SCs and Rs 54,676 crores for STs. Even the amounts announced by the Finance Minister – Rs 56,619 crore for SCs and Rs 39,135 crore for STs – should not be taken at face value.
The devil is in the details, as the saying goes.
The NCDHR report says, “… the nature of allocation for SC welfare schemes shows that only Rs. 28, 697.74 crore, which is 50.69% of the total Scheduled Caste Component (SCC) and Rs. 19,623.25 crore that is 50.14% of the total Scheduled Tribe Component (STC) allocation has been allocated towards targeted schemes for both SCs and STs.” (emphasis added).
The other allocations are non-targeted schemes which constitute Rs. 27,920.76 crore (49.31%) and Rs.19, 511.48 crore (49.86%) for SCs and STs respectively. “Not only was the allocation of funds for these two programmes less than half of the stipulated norm, even this reduced allocation was being done in such a way that allowed the diversion of funds for schemes that did not directly contribute to the actual development of these communities,” says the report.
Newsclick spoke to Paul Divakar, General Secretary of the NCDHR on the Budget allocations for the Dalits and Adivasis.
“The Special Component Plan for SCs and the Tribal Sub Plan have been downgraded to mere schemes for the welfare of SCs and STs and have been left hanging without any clear guidelines being issued. There is no clear planning for bridging the development gap between the SCs, STs and the rest of the population. This is tragic,” said Mr. Divakar.
“As a result, the book exercise of notional allocations for inappropriate schemes has increased, taking away a critical tool for the development of SC/ST communities in the Union Budget. This would have an irreversible impact on the lives and livelihoods of SCs and STs in the country.”
The report brought to public notice the scholarship arrears of the last three years for SC/ST students. These amount to Rs. 8000 crore for SCs and Rs. 3156 crore for STs.
These are scholarships given to fund the education of poor SC/ST students with parental income less than Rs. 2.5 lakh per annum. The amount to be provided is less than Rs. 11,210 per student, which can be easily disbursed if there is political will on the part of the government.
The education of around 71,36,934 students – 51,03,243 SC students and 20,33,741 ST students – would be thrown into uncertainty if the amount is not released on time.
There are many instances where the students are forced to drop out of courses due to the government not paying the fee of the students to the concerned institutes on time.
We have seen, on multiple occasions, the plight of the students when scholarship funds are not released to the respective colleges and schools.
On 1 February, a 14 year-old Dalit girl committed suicide as the school did not allow her to appear for exams since she had not paid the fee on time. And we are well aware of the circumstances that led Rohith Vemula to take his life.
The NCDHR report also identified 13 schemes amounting to Rs. 8004 crore that are general in nature and which do not directly benefit the SC/STs. Out of the total amount sanctioned for the SC/STs, “only Rs. 48,321 crore are targeted schemes, the rest Rs. 47,432 crore have no relevance nor are accessible by the community for its development.”
The document goes on to say that with the merger of plan and non-plan expenditure following the abolition of the Planning Commission, no proper “planning and allocations” for SCs and STs are being made. The development of these sections is totally neglected, and the purpose of the special budgetary provisions is defeated.
The NCDHR has made some recommendations to remedy the injustice done to the Dalits and Adivasis in the Budget. Many of these can be easily implemented if the government shows the necessary will. Two of these, for instance, are as follows:
● A legislation is needed that mandates the government to allocate adequate funds and to ensure financial inclusion.
● A large proportion of funds for the SCs and STs with various ministries remain unspent. Such unspent money should be deposited in a centralised non-lapsable pool of SCC & STC funds. Plans must be designed to implement new schemes which are directly beneficial to the SC/ST population.
This year’s Union Budget, in short, seems to be an exercise of neglect and discrimination towards the SCs and STs.