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Print edition : Jun 22, 2022 T+T-

Transforming Dalit lives

The Advaitha medical store in Huzurabad started by Kummari Saralanga Manga and her husband Satish.

The Advaitha medical store in Huzurabad started by Kummari Saralanga Manga and her husband Satish. | Photo Credit: By Special Arrangement

The Telangana government’s Dalit Bandhu scheme envisions the financial empowerment of Dalit families and hopes to nurture a spirit of entrepreneurship in them.

Forced to eke out a living as daily-wage labourers after they lost the only earning member of their household, Pottala Amrutha and her two sons found employment at a local cotton mill. But they were disillusioned because the pay was meagre and the working conditions were horrible. That was before they jointly established a weighbridge facility at Jammikunta in Venkateshwarlapally gram panchayat in Telangana’s Karimnagar district. Today, their earnings have gone up substantially.

Kummari Saralanga Manga and her graduate husband Satish were desperate to get their only child into a good English medium school. But with Satish not gainfully employed, things looked bleak until they started their Advaitha Medical and General Stores in Huzurabad. His qualification as a pharmacist helped and, today, the couple have employed an assistant and earn around Rs.25,000 a month.

Erla Mallamma and her husband, residents of Venkateshwarlapally gram panchayat in Karimnagar district, eked out a living as daily-wage labourers. But last February, the family established a dairy farm armed with four buffaloes. The family has been earning around Rs.30,000 a month.

Establishing a dairy doesn’t always ensure an income. Kavvampally Vanaja and her husband from the nearby gram panchayat of Naguram left their low-paying jobs to start a dairy. But running it proved beyond them and they were forced to shut it down and started working as daily-wage labourers, earning Rs.500 a day. But in March this year, they established a supermarket which is generating a business of around Rs.5,000 a day.

These success stories are just a few of the thousands of Dalit families in Telangana who have been financially empowered by the Telangana government’s Telangana Dalit Bandhu Yojna 2021 scheme. Buoyed by Dalit Bandhu, over 25,000 Dalit families have already ventured into businesses as varied as diagnostic laboratories, taxi services, hotels and restaurants, weighbridges, cement mixers, harvesters, photographic studios, tractors and paddy threshing machines, provision stores, transport business, electronic equipment stores, and dairy farming.

Under the scheme, which has been touted as the world’s largest direct benefit transfer programme, Rs.10 lakh is directly transferred to the bank accounts of every Dalit beneficiary every month. By the end of July, the scheme will benefit about 39,000 Dalit families.

Kummari Saralanga Manga in her medical store.
Kummari Saralanga Manga in her medical store. | Photo Credit: By Special Arrangement

The government is hoping to offer the scheme in a phased manner to around 18 lakh Dalit families at a cost of Rs 1.7 lakh crore. Last March, the State’s Finance Minister T. Harish Rao had announced an allocation of Rs.17,700 crore for the scheme for the year 2022-23. The Centre for Dalit Studies (CDS) has said the scheme had no parallel ‘anywhere in the world’. Unlike earlier schemes, there is no bank linkage and no collateral security and the beneficiary has the complete freedom to select any business/activity he/she is good at.

Explaining the salient features of the scheme to Frontline, Rahul Bhojja, Secretary, Scheduled Castes Development Department, said that under the scheme, the government had identified 100 members from 118 of the State’s 119 Assembly constituencies. “Besides this number, 18,211 families from the Huzurabad Assembly constituency and a further 9,000 families from the four mandals of Chintakani, Tirumalagiri, Nizamsagar and Charagonda have also benefitted from the cash transfer scheme. A total of Rs.9.90 lakh is immediately transferred to the beneficiary’s bank account and, based on the entrepreneur’s detailed project report, a payment advisory slip is issued and the money dispersed to the vendor.”

Bhojja, who is also Secretary to Chief Minister Chandrashekar Rao, explained that the government deducts Rs.10,000 from every beneficiary’s grant and, after matching it with an equal amount, deposits it in the Dalita Rakshana Nidhi (protection fund). “This corpus fund is a safety structure and will come to the aid of Dalit Bandhu beneficiaries in case of untimely death or a collapse of their business. The fund is to be managed by the concerned District Collectors, along with a committee of beneficiaries,” added Bhojja.

In several instances, families have even joined together and combined their grants so that they have an enhanced amount to invest. A few beneficiaries have joined hands and managed to form a corpus of Rs.70 lakh and acquired earth-moving equipment.

Talking to Frontline, R.V. Karnan, Collector, Karimnagar district, said: “The Dalit Bandhu is transforming Dalit lives. For example, several Budiga Jangalu families, who are traditionally nomads selling kitchen utensils and other items, have utilised the grant to acquire commercial transport vehicles and are now able to cover larger distances.” But, there have been a few hiccups and protestations.

Some beneficiaries Frontline spoke to complained that they had not been allowed to avail the entire Rs.9.90 lakh in one go. Said S. Kumar: “I have only been permitted to avail Rs.5 lakh so far. This has prevented me from buying a more exhaustive line of products that I can then offer in my store.” Added Mekala Shekar: “We have been directed to declare from which agency or manufacturer we are going to procure items and the money is then released to that agency or manufacturer. The problem is that we are then stuck with one agency, and one agency cannot provide us with the range of items we want.”

However, Rahul Bhojja, while admitting that a scheme as big as the Dalit Bandhu was bound to need fine-tuning from time to time, disclosed that the money, once deposited in the beneficiary’s account, cannot be taken back by the government and that it had to be released as and when the beneficiary’s project or business needed it.

Said Bhojja: “In many instances, beneficiaries are looking to take the money and acquire real estate or a car. Everyone needs to remember that this is an income generating scheme, not an asset procurement scheme.”