Follow us on

|

Print edition : Oct 19, 2007 T+T-
Members of the All Assam Scheduled Caste and Tribes Unemployed Association protesting against the non-fulfilment of their demands, at Dispur in June.-PTI

Members of the All Assam Scheduled Caste and Tribes Unemployed Association protesting against the non-fulfilment of their demands, at Dispur in June.-PTI

The failure of governments at the Centre and in the States to genuinely implement the Special Component Plan has cost Dalits dear.

Members of the

DISCRIMINATION against one section of people by another is deplorable, but discrimination against a section of people by the State itself is even more so, particularly when such discrimination is in the form of denial of their legitimate share in public funds. This seems to be the case of 17 crore Dalits in India who constitute 16.2 per cent of the population.

Had the Special Component Plan (SCP) for Dalits, which was introduced 28 years ago to ensure their all-round development, been implemented sincerely, it would have brought about a sea change in their condition by now. This has not happened owing to bureaucratic indifference and vested interests in the administration.

The SCP, which has recently been renamed as the Scheduled Castes Sub Plan (SCSP), was itself a special device to compensate for the failure of the government and its agencies to see that the benefits of the Five-Year Plans reached people who had been victims of social ostracism for centuries. Under the scheme, both Central and State governments were to allocate funds to the SCSP in proportion to the percentage of Dalits in the population.

In fact, while introducing the scheme, the Government of India even said that the allotment must actually be more than proportionate to the percentage of Dalits in the population. Under the scheme, every sector of the government for which funds are allocated should provide a share to the SCSP. If this had truly happened, benefits worth thousands of crores of rupees would have accrued to Dalits in the past 28 years. But allotments were either not made by different sectors or those made were not in accordance with the guidelines. Even the small share of funds allotted were not fully utilised or were diverted for other purposes or allowed to lapse. This despite repeated directives from the Planning Commission. Dalit leaders and activists blame it on the social prejudices of bureaucrats.

R. Christodas Gandhi, a senior Indian Administrative Service officer, said there was no denying that Dalits had made significant progress in the past 30 years. Their presence was substantial in the fields of engineering, medicine, teaching, law and the civil services. But if the SCSP had been implemented the way it was conceived, this growth should have been at least ten times more.

The SCSP funds could have been used in sectors such as education to empower Dalits to a great extent. Under the scheme, governments should have provided funds not only for scholarships and fellowships but also for enabling Dalit entrepreneurs to build schools and colleges. This would have gone a long way in creating assets and building capacity. Governments could also have awarded contracts to Dalits for public works and material supply.

The introduction of the SCP in 1979 as an instrument of rapid development of Dalits, on the lines of the Tribal Sub-Plan (TSP), has a history behind it. The 1970s were a turbulent period following the wars with Pakistan in 1965 and 1971. Prices rose steeply and acute poverty prevailed in several regions. The economy was unstable owing to inflation, the huge spending on wars and the financial burden imposed on the government by the influx of refugees from neighbouring countries. Dalits, who were at the bottom of the socio-economic layers, were the worst affected.

The period also saw political instability the declaration of Emergency, the silencing of the press and the Opposition, and so on. Communal and caste-based organisations raised their ugly heads and, not surprisingly, there was a spurt in crimes against Dalits in several States.

Caste Hindus torched 11 agricultural workers at Belchi in Bihar in 1977. The massacre marked the beginning of two decades of violence against Dalits in a number of States. In Bihar, Dalits joined the naxalites and caste Hindu landholders launched private armies such as the Ranvir Sena against them. It was clear that welfare schemes had not benefited Dalits much.

Planners and their political masters found that there was something radically wrong with the planning process, the way financial outlays were made and budgeting was done. The Planning Commission realised that the Area Development approach it followed until then was not relevant in the case of Dalits because they lived along with the rest of the population in villages in most parts of the country, unlike the tribal people who were concentrated in certain areas. The Commission formulated the SCP as an alternative.

The multi-member Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, which was set up in August 1978 by upgrading the Special Commission for S.Cs and S.Ts, with a view to addressing Dalit-related issues more effectively, was also involved in the process of evolving the SCP concept. The SCP was made obligatory for all State governments and the Union government.

The prime objective of the SCP was to ensure adequate funds to implement schemes that would benefit Dalits, reduce the gap between Dalits and the rest of the society and speed up the process of integrating them with the mainstream. The idea was to ensure their total development through educational empowerment, capacity building, employment and income-generating devices, asset building, and so on. Its salient features include earmarking funds for SCP projects from the total Plan outlay, both at the Central and State levels, at least in proportion to Dalits share in the population; making the social welfare department or the department concerned with the welfare and development of Dalits as the nodal department for the SCP; placing the funds earmarked for the SCP at the disposal of the nodal department, which in turn will reallocate the funds to sectoral departments; placing SCP funds under separate budget heads or sub-heads for each development department implementing the SCP; and appointing monitoring committees at the block, district and State levels with elected representatives, among others, as members.

Till the end of the Fourth Five-Year Plan, a Planning Commission report said, funds for the implementation of the various programmes for the Scheduled Castes [Dalits] were allocated mainly in the Backward Classes Sector in spite of the fact that all Five-Year Plans emphasised that the Scheduled Castes must get their due share from the general sectors of development. The report said that this allocation was inadequate and was not commensurate with Dalits percentage in the population.

A new strategy for the quantification of funds for the development of Dalits was, therefore, evolved from the Fifth Five-Year Plan to provide a thrust to development through schemes under the general sector, which were to be supplemented by programmes under the Backward Classes sector. The report said that it was, however, noticed that funds were not being allocated from the general sector for the schemes concerning Dalits welfare.

Although the States did prepare the SCP for the 1979-80 Annual Plan as directed, funds were not allocated strictly in conformity with the principles underlying the SCP concept. It was the sixth Five-Year Plan that first accommodated the SCP. Indira Gandhi, who was the Prime Minister then, introduced the Special Central Assistance (SCA) to help the States implement the SCP in its true spirit.

The response of the States, barring a few, was unhelpful. It was explained on behalf of the States that they could not allocate funds in proportion to Dalits share in the population because the bulk of the allotments went to non-divisible sectors such as power, communication and irrigation, leaving little for the divisible sectors from which their SCPs were to be drawn.

The SCP had generated high expectations among Dalits. They believed that the initial technical problems in the allocation of funds could be resolved and the flow of funds would help improve their lives in a big way. However, the reluctant implementation of the scheme and the slow pace in which things were moving belied their hopes. It is strange that no workable solution has been found to allocate funds from the general sector to the SCP even after nearly three decades of its introduction.

Seventeen of the 29 States in India, many of them with a substantial presence of Dalits, are yet to earmark funds for the SCP in proportion to the percentage of Dalits in the population or to a separate budget-head for Dalits welfare. Most of the States do not follow the guideline that allocation be made to every department or Ministry. They do not utilise in full even the small quantum of funds allocated.

There have also been complaints of diversion of funds to other sectors. Owing to the reluctance of the political leadership or bureaucratic apathy or the conspiracy of the vested interests in the administration, huge sums of money that could have been spent on the socio-economic development of Dalits went unspent or got diverted to benefit other sections of the people. The cumulative loss to Dalits because of this runs to thousands of crores, according to Dalit activists (see box).

The Union governments performance is also apparently not encouraging. For instance, the total budget allocation under the Plan outlay for the year 2007-2008 was Rs.2,05,100 crore and the allocation under the SCSP ought to have been Rs.32,816 crore (16 per cent of the budget) but the real allocation was only Rs.12,535.75 crore. The amount thus denied to Dalits is Rs.20,280 crore. This is about Rs.1,000 crore more than the amount denied last year.

Economist M. Thangaraj described the SCSP as a landmark provision for Dalits as it mainly deals with eradication of poverty among them and that the authorities with vested interests do not genuinely implement it. He said if the SCP and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act had been genuinely implemented, poverty and untouchability would have vanished long ago.

D. Ravikumar, a Dalit Panthers of India legislator in Tamil Nadu, said: The SCP will certainly help hasten the economic advance of Dalits, if properly implemented. However, none of the States, barring perhaps Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, where Dalit movements are strong, appears to have taken the Plan with any seriousness. Even in Tamil Nadu, the implementation has left much to be desired. Only in the current year has the government made allotments in proportion to the Dalits share [19 per cent] in the States population. Last year it was only 11 per cent. There have been under-allocation, under-utilisation or diversion all along.

He said education, public health and asset creation could be the ideal fields to be chosen for the SCP. A time-bound programme to replace all thatched huts with decent houses could be taken up. It will solve the housing problem in just three years, he said. The government can use the SCP for schemes such as total abolition of manual scavenging. The government should also develop a monitoring system, he said.