Buffeted by Multiple Avoidable Issues, SC Sub-Plan Fails to Better Lives of Dalits

One of the major reasons for the poor implementation of the Schedule Caste Sub Plan is that it is seen as an aid for the survival of the SCs rather than bringing in equity and providing sustainable economic empowerment.

Listen to this article:

Historic discrimination and deprivation faced by the Scheduled Castes (SCs) necessitated certain constitutional measures and special policy provisions for their holistic development. From ‘incidental’ benefits flowing to the SCs from various development interventions to the adoption of the then Special Component Plan (SCP) in the 1970s, efforts have been made to channelise due share of plan benefits and outlays to them, both in the physical and financial terms. The SCs, however, continue to be marginalised across the social, educational and economic spectrum.

SCs face the second highest incidence of multidimensional poverty, after the Scheduled Tribes (STs) in India. Around 33.3% of the 28.3 crore SC population is living in poverty (Global Multidimensional Poverty Index, 2021). Successive National Family Health Survey (NFHS) data shows a higher prevalence of malnutrition among SC children. Similarly, SC students have a higher dropout rate at the secondary level, and a lower Gross Enrolment Ratio at the post-secondary level as compared to the ‘all-students’ average.

COVID-19 induced lockdown affected the marginalised castes much more severely than the ‘upper’ castes; the share of employment loss for SCs being three times (21 percentage points) higher than that of the upper castes (7 percentage points).

This begs the question why these concerted efforts by the government for the community have made little impact in about half a century. The answer to this lies in the many shortcomings in the policy design, inadequate resource allocation and poor implementation of the Schedule Castes Sub Plan (SCSP).

Multiple issues

SCSP has always been implemented to aid the survival of the SCs rather than to bring in equity and provide sustainable economic empowerment.

Earlier efforts suffered from the lack of structural and economic support, as identified by the Sixth Five Year Plan while the implementation of SCSP suffered from poor design and planning, low allocation (many states/Union territories quantifying funds under SCSP only from the divisible sectors/programmes), notional funding, diversion of the fund, non-uniformity across states, presentation of the budget and lack of social group wise beneficiary data. These issues have been sustained within the SCSP despite its changing nomenclature and guidelines over the years.

Also read: How Effective Have NDA’s SC/ST Budgets Been? An Analysis of the Last Five Years

As the needs of the SC community were considered homogeneous without taking into account the regional, local, and community-wise variance, the fund did not reach the target population to bring about desired outcomes.

For instance, plan outlays from schemes did not reach the SC habitations outside villages and towns, and priority sectors schemes like education, health, vocational training for SCs, etc., were not planned as per needs. Additionally, development schemes relating to roads, major irrigation projects, mega power and electricity projects did not offer any direct and immediate benefits to SCs.

Such allocations turn out to be mere figures on paper that do not flow through exclusive schemes directly benefitting SCs. Further, SCSP funds were diverted to the other general sectors despite creating dedicated budget heads and sub-heads.

As per the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) Report 2016, many states used this fund meant for the most deprived sections of the society for other purposes. More recently, the Bihar government, in 2018-19, diverted more than Rs 8,800 crore meant for SC/ST scholarships to projects related to roads, embankments, medical colleges and government buildings.

New guidelines for SCSP issued by NITI Aayog in 2017, whereby SCSP was rechristened as ‘Development Action Plan for SCs’ (DAPSC) in 2017, focused on specific schemes to ensure relevant budgeting and non-diversion of funds. It also suggested outcome-based monitoring creation of a Head “Non-lapsable Central Pool of SCSP Funds (NLCPSF)”, in the Public Account similar to that created for NER to ensure non-lapsability of the fund.

The fund is to be used for implementing schemes for SCs development and for providing incentives to state governments for effective implementation of SCSP. However, a quick analysis of the situation after the 2017-18 fiscal shows that this might not be the case.

Although the number of ministries allocating funds towards SCSP has increased and their total allocation has almost doubled since 2021-22 in absolute numbers, the percentage of DAPSC allocation out of total scheme allocation declined significantly since 2021-22. Also, the share of DAPSC allocation in the total scheme budget is less than the proportion of the SC population in the total population in 2021-22 and 2022-23. Therefore, even with the rise in SCSP allocation in absolute terms, the allocation itself has been consistently lower than the prescribed 16.2% allocation by the NITI Aayog guidelines.

Further, the allocation towards DAPSC continues to be notional, even after the new guidelines that call for allocation to be made scheme-wise. In fact, the notional allocation has increased since 2019-20. While at least 50% of the allocation made towards DAPSC was on relevant schemes in 2018-19, it has been less than 50% since, being 19% in 2020-21 and 37% in 2022-23. Over-allocation in general schemes tends to be notional as these schemes allocate budget without any methodology or scientific criteria and need assessment of the community. Such allocations do not have any real impact on the SC community and inflate the total quantum of DAPSC budget allocation.

Hence, DAPSC funding should be aligned with the needs of the SCs, as is, made under schemes focussing on SC empowerment, education and skill development, and in line with the proportion of the SC population.

SC-specific schemes, for instance, scholarship schemes for SCs, need more allocation, and general schemes require allocation in proportion to the SC population in the sectors impacted by the scheme. As mere fund allocation under SCSP is not enough or likely to turn out to be notional, the general schemes that allocate fund under SCSP but provide services uniformly to all populations should take a need assessment to provide more to the SC community to bridge the historic socio-economic gap between the SCs and others by means of differentiating the benefit provided either in terms of quotas or differentiation in the number of benefits.

At the Union level, there is also a need to ensure that the share of DAPSC in total scheme allocation is maintained at least as per the SC population. The focus of the fund allocated towards SCSP should be on scaling up, that is an additional number of beneficiaries over the specified proportion should be covered. A separate budget statement for SCSP/DAPSC allocation and scheme budget at the state level can ensure greater transparency and accountability. 

Jawed Alam Khan and Rahat Tasneem work with the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability, New Delhi.