New Delhi: The Budget may seem to have made an over 30% increase in the outlay for the welfare of the scheduled castes (SCs) and scheduled tribes (STs), but a closer look at the amount allocated tells a different story.
Dalit rights activists say that Budget 2017 has compromised on the standard practice of incorporating a Scheduled Castes Sub Plan (SCSP) and Tribal Sub Plan (TSP) as per the Narendra Jadhav guidelines issued for an inclusive growth of the SC/ST communities.
Indicating this at a press meet in New Delhi, a day after the union finance minister presented the Budget in parliament, Dalit rights activists under the umbrella of National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights said that even if Rs 52,393 crore was allocated for the SCs for the next financial year against Rs 38,833 crore in 2016-17, and Rs 31,920 crores for the STs, against Rs 24,005 crore in 2016-17, an analysis has revealed that in comparison to the previous Budget, a much lesser allocation for these sections have been made.
“If you just see the numbers they look good, you feel it is indeed a 34.92% increase in the expenditure budget for the SCs and 30.35% more outlay for the STs than the previous year. But go a bit deeper and you realise it is merely a clever projection of it, and also due to the merger of plan and non-plan estimates. In reality, it is in clear violation of the government’s Jadhav guidelines,” said the well-known Dalit rights activist N. Paul Divakar.
He further added that, “In the merged scenario of plan and non-plan estimates following the Jadhav guidelines mandates allocating a minimum of 4.63% under the Scheduled Castes Sub Plan and Tribal Sub Plan of the total budgetary allocation of the Union Budget. In that case, the denied and misallocated amount should total to Rs 71,139 crore for SCs and Rs 34,349 crore for STs.”
In 2010, following the formation of a task force by the government to effectively implement SCSP/TSP as an essential instrument for accomplishing inclusive growth, planning commission member Narendra Jadhav worked on formulating a set of guidelines.
On August 23, 2016, the Ministry of Finance issued directions to all the relevant ministries/departments follow the Jadhav guidelines for allocation of funds to the SC/ST communities.
Interestingly, the 2017-18 Union Budget has also made another “paradigm shift” in the policy. The activists said, “It has replaced the SCSP/TSP heads with ‘Allocation for welfare of SCs and STs.”
“We severely criticise the government’s attitude towards allocating funds for the SC/STs from a rights based to a welfare based approach. It has come at a time when we are demanding the government to legislate the SCSP and TSP to ensure the communities’ continued inclusive growth,” said activist Beena Pallical. She added, “We demand that the government bring it back and legislate it by spelling out allocations and mechanisms of implementation both at the central and state government budgets.”
“Disappearance of SCSP/TSP plans is actually in violation of Article 46 of the constitution. The rights of the SC/STs are protected as per the article through the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and the SCSP and TSP in the general Budget. However, this year, the sub plans have disappeared. The government has either abdicated its constitutional obligation or severely compromised with it. We demand an immediate correction of it,” said Divakar.
The SCSP and TSP were introduced by the government in annual budgeting in the 1970s to ensure flow of targeted financial and physical benefits from all sectors of development for the SC/STs.
NCDHR, which tracks funds through Dalit Adivasi budget analysis, showed in its analysis of the 2017-18 Budget that with the merger of plan and non-plan outlay, various expenditure heads under non-plan category got merged into planned outlay for SC/ST communities.
“For instance, salaries and pensions are a part of non-plan expenditure. Now, salaries of teachers who belong to SC/ST communities in various institutions, and pension of retired lecturers and professors who belong to the community, have been counted as spending on SC/STs. These people worked for the government like the rest of the society and are claimant of pension post retirement benefits, so what has it got to do with the spending the government needs to do as per Article 46 of the constitution?” asked Abhay Xaxa of the Indian Institute of Dalit Studies.
Xaxa also pointed out, “The Budget announced setting up of two tribal universities in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana but the total amount announced for it was one crore, whereas the government spends Rs 50 lakh on one student in institutions like the AIIMS. If it is not a farce, then what is?”
The current allocation for one of the flagship schemes for higher education of Dalit students, the pre-matric scholarship (PMS), is Rs 3348 crore under the department of social justice and empowerment for the SCs and Rs 1347 crore under the Ministry of Tribal Affairs for STs.
“However, there have been outstanding balance of PMS for 2015-16 which is more than Rs 9659.61 crore for SCs and Rs 1608 crore for STs. That amount has not been provisioned in the present Budget,” said Xaxa.
Divakar said, “As many as 55 lakh SC and 27 lakh ST students have been affected by non-availability of these funds.”
“During a pre-budget consultation with the finance ministry”, Daivakar said, “we brought this up but nothing has been done. In the last six months, we travelled to 16 states to have consultations with various stakeholders and submitted an 8-page-long list of schemes that people want from the government under SCSP and TSP but we don’t see any of it in the Budget announcement. Instead, the total schemes for SCs has been reduced from 294 to 256 and that of STs to 261 from 307 in 2016-17. This included a scheme for the bonded labourers.”
While NCDHR co-convenor Vimal Thorat spoke of “the need for the government to bring schemes particularly aimed at Dalit women”, financial expert Ram Duggal added, “The Budget allocation reflects the political will of a government, it shows its intent. It may do a lot of talk about protecting the rights of SC/STs but when it comes to action, it doesn’t match.”