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Mainstream, VOL LII No 28, July 5, 2014

Budget Justice for Dalits and Adivasis

Saturday 5 July 2014

by Bharat Dogra, Roopam Singh

At a time when the need for inclusive development is being emphasised time and again, it is shocking to know that year after year development funds meant for the weakest sections have been diverted to entirely different areas on a massive scale.

Difficult to believe this may be, but it is a well-documented fact that funds meant for development of Dalits and tribals have been usurped time and again for such unlikely expenses as those relating to the organisation of Commonwealth Games, construction of fly-overs or even distribution of sweets in a big way.

We are speaking here mainly in the context of the government funds to be allocated under the Scheduled Caste Sub-Plan (SCSP), also known as Special Component Plan (SCP), and Tribal Sub-Plan (TSP). The massive misuse, misallocation and diversion of these funds meant for the poorest and most vulnerable sections of our society has been admitted very recently in important government documents.

For example, the Twelfth Plan document says: “Despite the fact that strategies of TSP and SCSP had been in operation for more than three decades, they could not be implemented as effectively as desired. The expenditure in many of the States/ UTs was not even 50 per cent of the allocated funds. No proper budget heads/sub-heads were created to prevent diversion of funds. There was no controlling and monitoring mechanism and the planning and supervision was not as effective as it should be.”

One of the most serious flaws in the implementation of the SCSP/ TSP has been that while these require allocation of funds in accordance with the proportion of SC and ST population (16.2 per cent and 8.2 per cent respectively), this kind of allocation has never been made so far. In fact the actual allocations have fallen far short of the stipulated norm, as is evident from Table 1.

In a paper (2010) on the SCSP, Paul Diwakar and Abhay Kumar write: “The implementation of SCSP with respect to State budgets is also not encouraging. For instance, in the financial year 2009—10 the Government of Bihar allocated only 1.14 per cent under the SCSP and the govern-ments of Delhi and Rajasthan have allocated 2.14 per cent and 2.13 per cent of their plan outlay respectively.”

A similar review (2010) for the TSP, made by Shrish Kavadi and others, indicted “the low commitment to tribals which is evident from the fact that the proportion of total allocation for TSP from all departments/ministries is way below the expected amounts. What is really disturbing is the declining trend in allocation towards TSP...The budgetary allocations towards TSP never fulfilled the TSP norms and guidelines.”

Apart from meagre allocations the TSP and SCSP also suffer as a big share of even these meagre allocations is not spent. As the Planning Commission has admitted (2012), “The expendi-ture in many of the States/UTs was not even 50 per cent of the allocated funds.” This made worse by the fact that these Sub-Plan funds, when not utilised in a particular financial year, lapse and so are lost as far as the welfare of SCs and STs is concerned.

Last but not the least, even the Sub-Plan funds that get spent are mostly spent on general expenses and not very specifically on issues of high priority for the welfare of SCs and STs. Hence the expenditure stated to have been made for the welfare of Dalits and adivasis under the two sub-plans is often notional rather than real. As the paper by Paul Diwakar and Abhay Kumar quoted above says, “In a few States such as Orissa and Uttar Pradesh where the allocation seems in line with the norms of SCSP, an indepth analysis shows that 60 per cent of the allocated amount is being used for the construction of roads, bridges, buildings, jails and similar other expenses which are nowhere linked to the welfare schemes for the development of the SC community.”

However, the poor implementation of the SCSP and TSP led to increasing involvement of social organisations, particularly Dalit organisations, in opposing unjust diversion and other irregularities. They also made many-sided efforts for improving the implementation of the SCP and TSP and the enaction of legislation for this purpose gradually became the focus of attention.

It was soon realised by this campaign that their demands should be supported by effective and strong legislation as only government/ Planning Commission directives are unlikely to achieve the desired results. Hence the demand for strong legislation to ensure the effective implementation of the SCSP and TSP in the right spirit started growing.

In June 2013 a Bill on the SCSP was released by the UPA Government. This was followed by a Bill on the TSP which was released in November 2013. Both Bills recommend statutory status for these sub-plans. They also recommend accountability mechanisms. However, they don’t have penalty provisions; also these Bills do not meet the demand for making the SCSP and TSP funds non-lapsable and non divertible. Never-theless these Bills are a significant step forward.

In his Budget speech 2013-14 the Finance Minster, P. Chidambaram, said on February 28; 2013: “I propose to allocate Rs 41,561 crore to the SCSP and Rs 24,598 crore to the TSP.” This was stated as a significant gain for Dalits and adivasis, but the reality was quite different as was highlighted by the National Coalition for SCSP and TSP Legislation. In a critique the Coalition pointed out that if the proper norm of 16.2 per cent and 8.2 per cent allocation for the SCP and TSP was followed, then keeping in view the total Plan expenditure of this Budget of Rs 4,19,000 crores these Sub-Plans should have got much higher allocation. In fact compared to the proper norm SCSP and TSP had been denied about Rs 36,000 crores (Rs 26,327 crores plus Rs 9765 crores). Over the years these organi-sations have been making similar critiques which revealed that thousands of crores of rupees have been denied to Dalits and adivasis every year.

Keeping in view the large-scale and many- sided deprivation suffered by these communities, it is not difficult to see what a great difference the proper allocations and expenditures as per the norms of the SCSP and TSP can make to Dalits and adivasis, including women and children in these communities. If properly spent, these additional funds can help to reduce the high rates of child malnutrition and mortality. Lives of lakhs of children can be saved. Literacy rates can be increased and drop-out rates can be reduced among children. Similarly, maternal mortality can be reduced significantly and many women can be saved from degrading and risky work. Improvement of water and sanitation in Dalit and adivasi bastis can improve health and provide many-sided relief particularly to women. New promising non-traditional occupations can be opened up for youths, land rights of Dalits and adivasis can be better protected and small-scale irrigation can help to improve their food security and livelihood. Keeping in view this many-sided potential of ensuring proper implementation of the SCSP and TSP, this task deserves the broad-based support of all social forces that stand for justice and equality.

Bharat Dogra is a free-lance journalist who has been involved with several social initiatives and movements. Roopam Singh is currently a free-lance researcher and writer.