For social justice

Print edition : October 21, 2011

AFTER 11 FIVE-YEAR Plans and about three and a half decades of the Special Component Plan, most of the S.C.s continue to be agricultural labourers and have limited access to education, and are subjected to rampant "untouchability", atrocities and bonded labour. Here, a file picture of the demolished portion of the wall at Uthapuram village near Madurai, Tamil Nadu, which separated the Dalit colony and the caste-Hindu locality. - S. JAMES

Any new system for the socio-economic progress of Dalits and other vulnerable sections must not lose sight of Special Component Plan goals.

THE Planning Commission's Approach to the 12th Five Year Plan deals with the Scheduled Castes (S.C.s) briefly in a portion of Chapter 11 titled Social and Regional Equity. It, however, significantly mentions the need to devise a new system that can overcome the difficulties experienced with regard to the implementation of the Special Component Plan for Scheduled Castes (SCP) and the Tribal Sub-Plan (TSP). But it does not specify the proposed new system.

An effective and purposeful new system can be devised only by understanding clearly the objective of the SCP and the TSP and why it has not been achieved substantively until now.

The SCP and the TSP have a constitutional mandate that commands the state to create a regime of equality, including social equality, through comprehensive measures of social justice. Social equality means ensuring equality between the S.C.s and the Scheduled Tribes (S.T.s) and also the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBCs), Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Backward Classes (B.C.s), which include the bulk of the religious minorities who are in fact converts from untouchable and other low castes on the one hand and the Socially Advanced Castes (SACs, that is, non-S.C., non-S.T., non-B.C.) on the other, in all parameters of life economy, occupation, education (at all levels), housing, health and nutrition, and so on.

In line with this constitutional mandate, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is also the Chairman of the Planning Commission, in his address on June 27, 2005, to the 51st meeting of the National Development Council, which approves Plans and Approaches to Plans, directed that the gap in the socio-economic development of the S.C.s and the S.T.s should be bridged within 10 years. What this means is that the S.C.s and the S.T.s should reach the levels of the SACs in each and every parameter. For this, the SCP ought to be formulated and implemented by the Centre and the States in such a manner that the socio-economic gaps between the S.C.s and the SACs are eliminated in every parameter by comprehensive, integrated, objective-oriented radical planning on the basis of the needs and rights of the S.C.s and keeping in view the overarching goals of their economic liberation from agricultural and other servitude, educational parity at all levels, equality with the SACs in every parameter and the protection of their social dignity and security. Similarly in respect of the S.T.s, mutatis mutandis.

In the existing procedure, Central and State Plan outlays are first allocated among different sectors and Ministries/departments. Their programmes and schemes do not take into account the priorities and needs of the S.C.s and the S.T.s. Thereafter, the Ministries in charge of the S.C.s and the S.T.s, along with the Planning Commission and their State counterparts, seek from each Ministry/department its contribution to the SCP and the TSP. The contributions consist of notional amounts or amounts that are of no or marginal relevance to the S.C.s and the S.T.s. No wonder that after 11 Plans and about three and a half decades of the SCP most of the S.C.s continue to be rural-resident agricultural labourers; have limited access to education, especially higher and professional education; and continue to be subjected to rampant untouchability, atrocities and bonded labour. In urban areas, they are mostly engaged in precarious unorganised casual labour and sections of them are still subjected to scavenging and other safai labour. Their habitations continue to be most uninhabitable.

I had the privilege of conceptualising and initiating the SCP in 1978 and pursuing it until 1982 in the Sixth Plan as Joint Secretary in the Home Ministry in charge of the S.C.s. Since 1983-84, when preparations for the Seventh Plan began, and thereafter at every stage and before the formulation of every Plan, in my various capacities, including as Secretary, Ministry of Welfare, in 1990 and as Chairman or member of successive Planning Commission working groups and steering committees, I have pressed that the starting point of the SCP should be to set apart for the S.C.s the population-equivalent share of the total Five-Year and Annual Plan outlay of the Centre and each State before the Plan outlay is distributed among sectors/Ministries/departments. Within this SCP corpus, plans should be formulated for the S.C.s in order to achieve the aforementioned goals. National and State-level expert bodies duly constituted should, on the basis of these plans, sanction projects in different sectors/Ministries/Departments, which will be accountable to these bodies; monitor implementation and secure fulfilment of the project objectives and overarching goals. I also put this in the public domain since 1996.

The Plans for the S.C.s thus prepared and approved should provide, inter alia, for the following programmes and schemes:

1. Endowing every rural S.C. family with a viable extent of land for transforming them from a class of agricultural labourers to a class of independent peasants, fulfilling the pre-Independence slogan of Land to the Tiller and commitments in the United Progressive Alliance's (UPA) common minimum programme (CMP) of 2004 and in the President's address to Parliament in 2004.

The Central and State Ministries/departments in charge of land reforms should be required to present a project to complete this process of land distribution on a village-to-village basis like a blitzkrieg through special task forces (STFs) set up in every taluk/tehsil/mandal (TSTFs) and every district (DSTFs) to identify government-owned land, bhoodan land, undistributed ceiling-surplus land, reclaimable usar/ choudu/ uppu/alkaline/saline and other wasteland. The distribution should be done to all rural S.C. families and to other landless poor agricultural labour families (who are mostly B.C.s or S.T.s), evicting ineligible encroachers. A State-level special task force (SSTF) should be part of this set-up to take stock of unimplemented Supreme Court judgments and pending litigation and take all steps to maximise surplus land and ensure that the TSTFs and DSTFs complete the task in a year or at the most two.

Where the above categories of land are not enough to provide for all rural S.C.s, the project should include acquisition or purchase of private land and a massive programme of reclamation of the lakhs of acres of wasteland and their distribution.

2. Undertaking a comprehensive national programme of minor irrigation for all lands of the S.C.s, which they already have and which will be made available to them, and the S.T.s, through community borewells, tubewells, check dams, lifts, and so on, facilitating income-augmenting multi-cropping and fulfilling an unfulfilled and unbudgeted commitment in the CMP and the President's address of 2004.

These twin measures will improve the dismal figures, worse than sub-Saharan Africa's, of S.C. and S.T. infant and child mortality, women's and children's malnutrition and anaemia; enable the S.C.s to resist untouchability; and free their children from the compulsion of labour to supplement their meagre family income and enable them to go to school. They will add significantly to foodgrain and other agricultural production; secure food security; check inflation and push up the all-India human resource indicators, which are among the lowest in the world, to respectable levels; and enable optimal growth of the economy. This should be the most important component of the Prime Minister's call, on the 83rd Foundation Day of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) on July 16, 2011, for a second Green Revolution that is more broad-based, inclusive and sustainable.

3. Establishing a network of high-quality residential schools throughout the country to accommodate all S.C. children up to Class XII, and thereby fulfilling a recommendation in the 2008 report of the Group of Ministers on Dalit Affairs set up in 2005.

4. Securing the full quota of reservation in higher education, supported by overdue legislation for reservation for the S.C.s, along with the S.T.s and the B.C.s, in private educational institutions, to fulfil the purpose of the 93rd Constitution Amendment, 2005, inserting new clause (5) in Article 15.

5. Fulfilling the aspirations of the educated section among the S.C.s, which, though small, is of highly catalytic value. This should be done through

(a) special coaching and training, aided by an overdue commitment in the CMP and the President's address of 2004 to enact legislation, free from exclusions, exceptions and exemptions, for reservation in services; and

(b) proactive promotion of entrepreneurship among them through centrally funded incubation and mentoring centres in universities and other prestigious institutions and provision of all facilities and support through a single window.

6. Firmly checking and severely punishing untouchability and atrocities, aided by the enactment of comprehensive amendments to the S.C.s and S.T.s (Prevention of Atrocities) Act to strengthen the Act and its implementation, formulated by a national coalition of 70 Dalit and human rights organisations with me as its Chief Adviser and communicated to the government in January 2010.

7. Instituting special schemes and programmes to meet extra disadvantages of the most vulnerable groups among the S.C.s, aided by a comprehensive piece of legislation that I drafted and a working group of the Labour Ministry approved in July 2011. The groups include manual scavengers and other sanitation workers; bonded labourers; nomadic, semi-nomadic and Vimukta Jathi tribes of the S.C.s; Devadasis, Jogins, etc., mostly S.C.s subjected to sacral harlotry; Bacchras, etc., subjected to secular harlotry; and S.C. women and children.

The 12th Plan Approach document takes note of the commitment to eradicate manual scavenging by the 11th Plan end and promises to fulfil it on priority in the 12th Plan. Similar commitments have been made many times in the past. This is also true of bonded labour. The new system is necessary to make this a reality at long last.

8. Making S.C. rural bastis and urban slums habitable by humanly acceptable standards with all facilities and connectivities.

9. Providing marketable skill-development for S.C. agricultural labourers who cannot be provided land despite all efforts and for S.C. urban unorganised casual labourers, and also providing them means of acquiring ownership of their means of labour, such as making the pullers of hired rickshaws owners of solar-powered rickshaws.

The new system can and must achieve all this and not merely stop with sanctioning projects to be executed by the relevant Ministries and other agencies. It must also follow them up continuously with the help of district bodies, monitor and secure feedbacks and take timely corrective action instead of resorting to post-mortem. This new system has been detailed in the report of the sub group-I (on perspective planning and strategies) under my chairmanship, of the working group on empowerment of S.C.s in the 12th Plan, and has received unanimous support in the working group.

This is how a meaningful SCP for the S.C.s should be formulated. The S.C.s deserved a whole chapter of the Approach detailing the above. The sectoral chapters also ought to have dealt with their meaningful contributions to the S.C.s and the S.T.s.

What has been outlined for the S.C.s, also applies to the S.T.s and the TSP, in accordance with well-known specificities of the S.T.s. Regarding the B.C.s, the Approach document has the misapprehension that the B.C.s have no constitutional status. In fact, the B.C.s are also covered by specific Articles of the Constitution. The working group for empowerment of B.C.s in the Tenth Plan, of which I was the chairman, worked out appropriate methodology for B.C. development, and this was reiterated by the working group in the Eleventh Plan. The Approach document says nothing about the development of the B.C.s, including those of religious minorities. This grave lacuna can be made good by implementing the methodological recommendations of these two working groups.

P.S. Krishnan retired as Secretary, Government of India, in 1990 and has been active in the field of Social Justice & Empowerment of the S.C.s, the S.T.s and the B.C.s, including B.C.s of religious minorities, for more than six decades.

A letter from the Editor


Dear reader,

The COVID-19-induced lockdown and the absolute necessity for human beings to maintain a physical distance from one another in order to contain the pandemic has changed our lives in unimaginable ways. The print medium all over the world is no exception.

As the distribution of printed copies is unlikely to resume any time soon, Frontline will come to you only through the digital platform until the return of normality. The resources needed to keep up the good work that Frontline has been doing for the past 35 years and more are immense. It is a long journey indeed. Readers who have been part of this journey are our source of strength.

Subscribing to the online edition, I am confident, will make it mutually beneficial.

Sincerely,

R. Vijaya Sankar

Editor, Frontline

Support Quality Journalism
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor