Welfare of S.C. and S.T.

Broken promises

Print edition : February 02, 2018

Dalits and Adivasis on a march highlighting their demands, in New Delhi on May 9, 2012. Photo: V.V. Krishnan

Data show that the National Democratic Alliance government has not fulfilled its promises with regard to the welfare of the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes, the Other Backward Classes and other weaker sections.

The outburst of Dalit anger during and in the aftermath of the commemoration of the Bhima Koregaon battle has by and large been described as an assertion of resistance of the “oppressed” against their oppressors. While the protests remained more or less confined to Maharashtra and acquired some resonance in Delhi, a few Dalit organisations have tried to organise themselves around the issue in parts of Haryana as well. What is missing, however, is the mobilisation of Dalits on economic or deprivation issues, which appear to be at the core of the problem, more so in the three and a half years of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rule at the Centre.

While upcoming Dalit youth leaders, such as Jignesh Mevani, who was recently elected legislator from Vadgam in Gujarat, have spoken out on the need for land reforms and job generation, these issues have been absent in the majority of discourses on dignity and self-respect. Landlessness and lack of assets, apart from unemployment, undoubtedly are among the major challenges confronting youths in general and Dalit youths in particular. The assertion of the right to choice in marriage is also yet to become a rallying point in Dalit rights movements.

Before the 2014 elections, the BJP made several promises in its manifesto with regard to the welfare of the Scheduled Castes (S.Cs), the Scheduled Tribes (S.Ts), the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and other weaker sections, assuring them that it would apply the principles of samajik nyaya (social justice) and samajik samrasta (social harmony). But none of this seems to have made any headway in the last three and a half years. The party also stated that it would create an “ecosystem for education and entrepreneurship” for the S.Cs, the S.Ts, the OBCs and other weaker sections. More importantly, it promised that it would ensure that the funds allocated for schemes and programmes for these sections would be utilised properly.

Simultaneously, it unveiled an agenda to woo Dalits with the decision to celebrate Ambedkar Jayanti every year. In Uttar Pradesh, the party won 75 of the 85 reserved seats in the Assembly elections held in early 2017. According to media reports, Dalits were invited to perform yagnas in order to counter the image of the BJP as an upper-caste party. Before the elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the Ambedkar Mahasabha office in Lucknow to firm up the blueprint for a Dalit agenda. Media reports detailed how samrasta bhoj (social harmony feasts) were being planned in view of the upcoming Ambedkar Jayanti celebrations in April 2018. The launching of BHIM, or Bharat Interface for Money, a mobile app developed by the National Payments Corporation of India for cashless transactions and named after Ambedkar, was also not without significance. The app was launched by the Prime Minister in December 2016.

While social harmony seems to have been torn asunder with episodes of expressions of deep resentment against Dalit mobility and self-respect, social justice, too, has been relegated to the back burner. Replies given in the winter session of Parliament in December 2017 reveal that the commitment to an “ecosystem for education” has hardly been met. In fact, it has been diluted and whittled down.

Disturbing figures

Frontline looked at some recent figures of the allocation of post-matric scholarships for Dalit children and the figures of delay in payments of schemes under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). As far as Dalit empowerment is concerned, these two areas assume significance because the first addresses the extent to which the government helps Dalit students gain access to education by awarding scholarships and the second relates to a subsistence-based employment scheme for the poor and the landless, most of them Dalits and members of the OBCs.

With regard to payment of post-matric scholarships for S.C. students, in reply to a question by Members of Parliament from Odisha, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment stated that “inadequate funding for the scheme over the years has resulted in the accumulation of huge pending arrears of various States, including that of Odisha” and that the arrears up to 2016-17 had accumulated to more than Rs.8,000 crore. Against Rs.11,407 crore required to be allocated in 2016-17, including for the payment of arrears, only Rs.2,791 crore was allocated. In 2017-18, this was raised to Rs.3,347.99 crore, an increase of Rs.556 crore, despite a department-related standing committee recommendation for an increase in the budget.

The cuts in the allocation for pre-matric scholarships for S.T. students in the past three years were even more glaring. States such as Jharkhand, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Meghalaya and West Bengal did not receive any allocation for scholarships for tribal students (classes nine and 10) in the Budgets of 2015-16 and 2016-17. There was a sharp decline in the allocation of funds between 2015-16 (Rs.22,868.95 crore) and 2016-17 (Rs.8,416.64 crore), that is by Rs.14,452.32 crore. In the subsequent year, Rs.21,859.70 crore was released, Rs.1,007.25 crore less than the allocation in 2015-16. Even if it is hypothetically argued that the reduced allocation was because of the poor enrolment of S.T. students and indicative of poor utilisation, that itself does not augur well for the government.

The post-matric scholarships for S.T. students were somewhat disbursed by the Centre in 2017-18, but the total amount sanctioned for the year was Rs.60,813 lakh less than what was allocated in 2016-17. Funds released for strengthening education among S.T. girls in low-literacy States showed an ad hoc pattern. No funds were allocated for Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana for 2017-18. Jharkhand received no allocation for the years 2016-17 and 2017-18 and Arunachal Pradesh for the years 2015-16 and 2016-17. Chhattisgarh, a predominantly tribal State, received no funds in this category for 2015-16 and 2017-18. The BJP manifesto had promised that it would “ensure” that the funds were being utilised properly; perhaps the decision to deprive the States with low rates of literacy was in consonance with a decision taken by the NITI (National Institution for Transforming India) Aayog in 2016 that outcomes would be closely monitored.

Cuts in expenditure

Paul Divakar, general secretary of the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights, told Frontline that no consultation had taken place before the Sub Plans for S.Cs and S.Ts were replaced with general Allocations for Welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in 2016. The Jadhav guidelines (a task force set up by the Planning Commission in 2010 under the chairmanship of Narendra Jadhav to review guidelines on S.C. and S.T. Sub Plans) specifies how departments are supposed to allocate funds. “But the guidelines are being flouted. In order to maintain the same levels, Rs.1,99,684 crore is what needs to be allocated. What has been allocated is Rs.53,400 crore only. We will need to see what the upcoming Budget has to offer,” he told Frontline.

The previous United Progressive Alliance government, he said, had held several consultations and brought in a draft Act for the Sub Plan but little progress has been made since the National Democratic Alliance government took over.

“We have been studying how Sub Plans are worked out. Banks have been consistently refusing loans to the Scheduled Caste and the Scheduled Tribe people, especially after demonetisation. The government has deposited the amount, it will be shown as grants-in-aid, but the money is sitting in the banks, for whom no one knows. Again, banks are not willing to loan money for the start-up programmes of Dalit women. In every State, it is a huge problem. Most of the time, not even 10 per cent of the targets are met. The expenditure for some direct schemes, Indira Awaas Yojana for housing and post-matric scholarships, has also been cut. Around 49 lakh students are suffering because of the blockage of scholarships. I am told that the Ministry of Social Justice has written to the Ministry of Finance [regarding this]. All this amounts to destruction of the economic security of the community,” he said.

‘Delayed compensation’

It is a well-known fact that Dalits and OBCs comprise a significant proportion of the workforce under the MGNREGA. Under the Act, if wages are not paid within 15 days of completion of a work week, the Centre has to pay a compensation for the delay. The MGNREGA website showed that the Centre owed Rs.2,21,22,145 to workers in 2017-18 as “delayed compensation”.

In September 2017, the Central government blocked funds to 19 States as they had not submitted their audited accounts. Not long ago, in February 2016, when the scheme under the Act completed 10 years, the Union government issued a press release stating that the “achievements were a cause of national pride and celebration”. The fact is that there has been little to celebrate, with delayed wage payments, delayed compensation payments and paucity of work. Among the total workers in the scheme, S.C. workers constitute 20 per cent and S.T. workers 17 per cent. The share of women employed under the scheme has gone up to 57 per cent, the highest in three years. Around 23 per cent of person-days were done by S.C. workers and 18 per cent by S.T. workers, which again, the government release said, was the highest in three years. Yet, data showed that the average number of days of employment per household had been coming down since 2013-14. Nowhere was it close to 100 days as mandated under the Act. The number of job cards issued was also nearly half of the total number of workers enrolling for work under the scheme; this indicated that employment was scarce vis-a-vis demand. According to the Socio-Economic and Caste Census of 2011, nearly 85 per cent of the highest earning household members in the S.C. category earned less than Rs.5,000 a month. The income source for nearly 60 per cent of S.C. households was from casual labour. On the other hand, the percentage of households (rural) with salaried jobs in government was a meagre 4.98 per cent.

“There is no work available under the scheme even though MGNREGA wages in Haryana at Rs.277 a day are the highest in the country. The outstanding wages to workers is around Rs.25 crore for the State,” Inderjit Singh, State vice president of the All India Kisan Sabha, told Frontline. He said that landlessness was high among Dalits and the acquisition of land by both the government and private agencies in at least eight to nine districts of Haryana that were now part of the National Capital Region had compounded matters. The percentage of landless households in Haryana deriving their income from casual labour was at 37.92 per cent, slightly lower than the national average of 38.36 per cent.

Land sale and acquisition have made it worse for the landless. The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition (Rehabilitation and Resettlement) Bill of 2013 has specific clauses with regard to compensating all those dependent on land acquired for public or private purposes. It was amended substantively in 2015, expanding the ambit of acquisition for specific purposes and diluting the mandatory social impact assessment required in certain cases of acquisition. The amendments also ensured that irrigated multi-crop land could be acquired for five new categories—defence, rural infrastructure, housing, industrial corridors, and infrastructure and social infrastructure. The 2013 legislation had made the acquisition of multi-irrigated land contingent on certain stringent conditions.

Economic and social repression

The breakdown of the traditionally unequal relationship between the landowner and the landless has given rise to new social tensions. For instance, a Dalit groom riding a horse, marriages with caste Hindu men or women, or even a Dalit man sporting a moustache has provoked violent reprisals in the recent past. “Dalits never used to ride horses during weddings. They weren’t allowed to do so. Now they do and that is an object of resentment,” said Inderjit Singh, recalling an incident in April 2017 in Sanjarwas village, Bhiwani district, Haryana, where Dalits were beaten up by a section of Rajputs in the village. The accused were arrested only after Dalit organisations protested.

A month earlier, a Dalit girl was raped in Haluwas village in the same district. In June 2016, the murder of a Dalit domestic worker in Rohtak saw huge protests. “No one has been arrested to date despite massive protests. The police never investigate such cases properly,” said Jagmati Sangwan, former general secretary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association. Already known as the State with the worst sex ratio for the third time in a row, Haryana has the dubious record of the highest number of gang rapes in the country, according to National Crime Records Bureau data released in December 2017.

“The victims are naturally from the socially vulnerable and economically marginalised sections,” said Inderjit Singh. It was little surprise then that in response to the events in Koregaon Bhima, Dalits took out rallies of protest in Narnaul in Mahendragarh district. Dalits comprise nearly 20 per cent of the population in the State and are often at the receiving end of discrimination by all communities. In the last Assembly elections in the State, they shifted their allegiance from the Congress to the BJP, which proved to be decisive. Dalits have little say in the recent episodes of competitive “reservation politics” in the State, but it cannot be denied that they are unaffected by the developments. Of late, the demand for reservation by other communities has often been accompanied by an attack on existing reservation policies for the S.Cs and the S.Ts. The violent agitation by Jats for reservation in 2016 ended up polarising communities further, though most politicos opine that the Haryana Chief Minister and BJP leaders have encouraged such polarisation. In November 2017, there were two parallel “caste-based” rallies, one in Jind claiming to represent the OBCs and the other in Rohtak by Jats, both of which were led by two BJP MPs, one of whom is a Central Minister. The Congress, the main opposition party in the State, has been traditionally diffident in raising Dalit issues for fear of alienating its Jat and upper-caste vote base. It did not raise strong objections when the Panchayat Act was amended to introduce several eligibility criteria for contesting elections, which resulted in the exclusion of Dalits from the electoral process.

When high-value notes were demonetised in November 2016, the Dalit community suffered the most; not only did the women in the community have to part with their meagre savings, the availability of daily wage work also took a hit. There has been no assessment to date of the economic hardships caused post-demonetisation to agricultural and casual labour, which involve large numbers of Dalits. Traditional “caste-determined” occupations such as flaying have also been badly affected by “cow vigilantism”. As Dalit consciousness around legitimate issues of self-respect and dignity grows, the transformation of Dalits’ social consciousness into an economic one is seen as the real challenge.