Special Component Plan

Lip service to SCP

Print edition : May 15, 2015

IT is unfortunate that B.R. Ambedkar’s contributions to the discipline of economics often go unnoticed. In fact, his struggle against the regressive caste system and practice of untouchability was deeply entrenched within an economic understanding. He critiqued the established opinion that çhaturvarnya, or the system of four caste categories, was in accordance with the economic principle of division of labour. He also denounced the theory propounded by scholars such as John C. Nesfield that superiority or inferiority of occupations eventually led to the hierarchy of the caste system. Ambedkar emphasised that these theories were too simplistic and said that the caste system, a product of religious beliefs, was actually a division of labourers instead of labour and that the occupations assigned to untouchables were actually sanctioned by the shastras (scriptures) in Hinduism to exclude certain communities. In other words, the caste system is the basis of assigning occupations and not the other way around.

It is this understanding of the caste system that made communities stagnant in their professions as the system did not allow people to pass on their professional skills to others outside the caste group, Ambedkar believed. He said that this bracketing of occupations impeded the growth and development of society and the economy. He believed that in a caste-ridden society, there is no willingness on the part of the individual to do work that is best suited to him. This leads to immobility of both labour and capital, and thus, hinders optimal utilisation of resources.

“According to Ambedkar, the caste system reduces mobility of labour as well as capital, leading to inefficiencies in production, thus impeding economic growth. In a broader sense, change is the essence of the process of economic development; it calls for continuous changes in socio-economic patterns. The caste system, on the other hand, advocates perpetuation of the traditional socio-economic pattern and as such is detrimental to economic development,” writes Narendra Jadhav, a former member of the Planning Commission.

Within these crucial perceptions, Ambedkar felt the need for constant engagement with the state in securing the rights of Dalits. The underlying goal of such a political practice was greater socio-economic mobility of Dalit labourers. For him, the mixed economy model, based on the values of democracy and human rights with the state owning crucial resources, which India adopted, was best suited to achieve these goals.

Special component plan

One of the most important programmes of the Planning Commission in independent India has been the special component plan (SCP) aimed to achieve this mobility of labour. Drafted by the former Indian Administrative Service officer and prominent civil rights activist P.S. Krishnan in 1978, the SCP, now known as the Scheduled Caste Sub-Plan (SCSP), requires the Central and State governments to allocate Budget funds for Dalits in proportion to their number in the population so as to enhance the flow of development benefits to them. Thus, if we take into account the population of the Scheduled Castes (S.C.) in Census 2001, the SCP would require that 16.2 per cent of the total Plan outlay in the Union Budget be earmarked for them. A similar programme for the Adivasis, the Tribal Sub-Plan (TSP), mandates governments to earmark for the Scheduled Tribes 8.2 per cent of the total Plan outlay.

The past three decades have seen successive governments denying this right to Dalits and Adivasis. Governments have either skipped allocating funds for these programmes or grossly under-allocated them (“Giving Dalits their due”, Frontline, February 7, 2014). Agitations and struggles all over India by advocacy groups forced the United Progressive Alliance-II government to prepare draft Bills to provide statutory status for these programmes. However, they are yet to be passed. With the abolition of the Planning Commission, the government is no longer obliged to allocate funds under the SCP or the TSP.

“The analysis of the past five Budgets indicates that the SCSP has never gone beyond 8.1 per cent of the total Plan outlay. Ideally it should be 16 per cent. Similarly, of the total Budget, 8 per cent should be allocated for the TSP, but the allocation is only around 4.5 per cent. Now with the abolition of the Planning Commission, it has become a bigger fight. Our governments must remember that the allocations under the SCSP and TSP are principally in consonance with the agreements of the Poona Pact (1932), which called for proportional representation of electoral constituencies. This meant proportional allocation of resources also,” said Paul Divakar of the Delhi-based Dalit Arthik Adhikar Andolan.

Divakar said that the maximum allocation under the SCSP and the TSP came from the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment which defied the whole principle behind such a scheme. “The idea is to create opportunities for Dalits and Adivasis in different sectors and not only in their traditional professions. This trend shows the shameful casteist mindsets of our governments as they keep denying our rights by under-allocating and allocating funds unimaginatively,” he said.

These significant but poorly implemented programmes were conceptualised with the objective of benefiting Dalit and Adivasi individuals, their families, and areas of their accommodation. In doing so, the governments should have ideally oriented funds to create greater employment opportunities for them. The overall vision of these plans was to create an enabling environment for greater participation of Dalits and Adivasis in the economy and society.

While the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress regularly invoke Ambedkar’s name in their campaigns, they seem to have forgotten what Ambedkar actually tried to achieve. Perhaps, it is a good time for mainstream political parties to go back to Ambedkar’s ideas and see their transformative potential.

Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta