Towards the end of the winter session of Parliament, even as the UPA, Mayawati’s BSP and Mulayam Singh Yadav’s SP staged an apparently pre-scripted wrangle over the SC/ST government job promotion quota Bill, Dalit and Adivasi activists came together to launch a new initiative.
The platform was a national consultation to press for proper utilisation of the Special Component Plan (SCP) funds earmarked for the benefit of the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and the Tribal Sub Plan (TSP) for the Scheduled Tribes (STs). The consultation brought together a score of organisations working for the rights and entitlements of Dalits and Adivasis, civil society leaders, serving and retired secretaries, and ministers and legislators from states and the Centre. The purpose of this exercise was to draw up a strategy for ensuring that funds budgeted for SCs and STs reached the intended beneficiaries.
More than 30 years after the Centre formulated the policy, SCs and STs remain deprived and marginalised. The funds allocated in proportion (16%) of the SC/ST population do not reach them; the funds are either diverted or allowed to lapse unspent; there are no institutional mechanisms for effective implementation of SCP and TSP; and, there is no community participation in the monitoring, evaluation and audit of the schemes and funds.
What spurred the coming together of these organisations and individuals is the passing of a SC/ST Sub Plan (Planning, Allocation and Utilisation of Resources) law by the Andhra Pradesh assembly on December 2, 2012. The National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) is now canvassing the AP law as a model for being adopted by other states.
With the campaign gathering steam and elections inevitable in 2014 if not earlier, the political class has to respond to the challenge of these demands.
Many of the points that emerged in the course of the consultation merit serious attention because they expose the failure of governance. It is imperative to “cast out caste” by eliminating both deprivation and discrimination that are socially and politically divisive and strive for inclusive economic growth through ‘equity budgeting’.
Some of the interesting and instructive points made at the consultation were:
- The actual spending on SC Sub Plan (SCSP) and Tribal Sub Plan (TSP) is way below the meagre allocation in the Plan outlays. The TSP/SCSP programmes should be implemented effectively and, for this purpose, there is need to provide implementation guidelines for special budgetary allocation.
- Proper awareness of TSP/SCSP at the community level needs to be created and sustained. Community participation should have a key role in the implementation of TSP/SCSP.
- There is a case for setting up a special mechanism at the district level for implementation of the TSP/SCSP.
- Nomadic Tribes and De-Notified Tribes are extremely deprived communities and they continue to be victims of state neglect. There is no separate Schedule for NTs and DNTs; nor are they covered as a whole by the TSP as STs. The Centre treats them as OBCs, and a few of them are included in SC/ST in some states, not all states. There is a strong case for having a separate special component plan for them. Otherwise, they need to be included in TSP.
- The programmes or schemes needs to be chosen with care on the basis of community needs.
- There should be deterrents to prevent malpractices and violations of the provisions of TSP and SCSP. (According to the SCP, the amount of expenditure provided for in the Union Budget for tribals and Dalits should be on the basis of their population. But this rule has been flagrantly violated by the states and the Centre).
- The Central Tripartite Committee to monitor the schemes under SCSP is not functioning properly. Therefore, the monitoring of the schemes under SCSP requires to be strengthened and carried out on a regular, structured basis at the central, state and district levels.
- Civil society should exert pressure on government for legislation that would make for all-round inclusiveness going beyond reservations in education, jobs and promotions.
- The problems faced with the administrative apparatus of the three commissions for the minorities, the SCs and the STs should be thrashed out so that the bureaucracy does not frustrate the objectives for which they were set up.
As political parties begin scrambling for their share of the votes of Dalits (and Adivasis), it would be interesting to see how the NCDHR and those it has mobilised move forward with their Joint Action Plan and what gains they secure for those who have rallied to the cause.
The author, an independent political and foreign affairs commentator, is a member of the Editorial Board of InDepthNews (IDN), Berlin