Two draft Bills on the Tribal Sub-Plan and the Scheduled Caste Sub-Plan raise hopes of granting these decades-old schemes statutory status and ensuring allocation of funds in the Central and State budgets for their implementation. By AJOY ASHIRWAD MAHAPRASHASTA
IN a significant legislative move, the Union government’s Ministry of Tribal Affairs released a draft Bill for the implementation of the long-neglected Tribal Sub-Plan (TSP), a special programme mandated by the Planning Commission to benefit the Scheduled Tribes. The Bill, which was released in the end of November 2013, will complement the Bill on the Scheduled Castes Sub-Plan (SCSP) released in June 2013. Both Bills recommend statutory status for these programmes and are an important step forward in making them stronger. They also recommend institutionalisation of accountability mechanisms in case of non-implementation of these programmes.
The SCSP, drafted by former Indian Administrative Service officer and prominent civil rights activist P.S. Krishnan in 1978, 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. It would entail earmarking 16.2 per cent of the total Plan outlay in the Union Budget for the Scheduled Castes, whose population was pegged around that figure in Census 2001. Similarly, the TSP mandates governments to earmark for the Scheduled Tribes 8.2 per cent of the total Plan outlay.
The Union and State governments have shown little interest in the implementation of these programmes. However, advocacy demanding proper implementation of the two sub-plans has gathered steam in the last 15 years. Leaders of some advocacy groups allege that governments have colluded with the dominant castes to prevent the implementation of these programmes. The activists, therefore, see the Bills as a shot in the arm for their cause.
As many as 151 Dalit and Adivasi groups from 22 States gathered in New Delhi in December and during the month met all-party delegations and political leaders separately. Land rights for Dalits and Adivasis, under the SCSP and the TSP, have been the main demand of these groups. On December 10, International Human Rights Day, thousands of Dalits and Adivasis protested in New Delhi to claim land rights for poor, landless Dalit and tribal families through land distribution for housing and agriculture. Addressing the rally, many Dalit leaders demanded that the provision should be included in the SCSP and the TSP. Following this, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh assured the activists that the Bills would be presented to the Union Cabinet so that they could be introduced in Parliament in subsequent sessions.
The SCSP (earlier known as Special Component Plan, or SCP) was introduced by the Planning Commission in 1979 and the TSP in 1974 as special programmes with the stated objective of bridging the development gap between the general population and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. They were intended to deliver direct benefits to Dalits and Adivasis because the universal social and economic welfare programmes of the Planning Commission remained inadequate for these populations.
Objectives of the plansThe plans were conceptualised with three objectives. One, funds under the SCSP and the TSP in various Ministries should directly benefit Dalit and Adivasi individuals; individual scholarships for education, housing facilities, employment opportunities, and so on, should be made available. Two, funds should be utilised to improve the conditions of Dalit and Adivasi families so that their access to the mainstream economy and social welfare programmes increases. This would include providing houses and cheap loans, creating employment opportunities and encouraging entrepreneurship. Three, funds under these programmes should be channelled towards special developmental work involving the building of schools and infrastructure required for the supply of drinking water and the extension of the public distribution scheme to bastis (hamlets) where Dalits and Adivasis constitute more than 40 per cent of the population. The overall vision was to create an enabling environment for greater participation of Dalits and Adivasis in the mainstream economy and society.
The Sixth Five Year Plan (1980-85) was the first Plan that gave due emphasis to the development of the S.Cs in terms of the Special Component Plan. Among the strategies adopted in this Plan were special Central assistance to the Special Component Plan and Scheduled Castes development corporations in the States. All the subsequent Five Year Plans emphasised these programmes. However, despite their existence for the last 30-odd years, governments have either chosen not to allocate funds under the SCSP and the TSP or diverted the funds towards other generic development work.
Nature of non-implementationThere are four different ways in which governments have been evasive in allocating funds under the SCSP and the TSP. In the preparation of the Union Budget, the Department of Economic Affairs under the Finance Ministry asks the Planning Commission to chart out expenditure for the financial year on the basis of the taxes collected. The Planning Commission, in turn, asks various Ministries to send proposals of their budget expenditure. The Ministries should, ideally, list out separate expenditure under the SCSP and the TSP, along with their general plan of expenditure. However, over the years the Ministries have not included SCSP and TSP funds in their proposals. Therefore, the Planning Commission has had to allocate funds under these schemes only after the Budget is approved. Government documents revealed that many Ministries never allocated funds under the SCSP and the TSP. This is the first and the most blatant violation of the schemes.
Secondly, most Ministries have flouted the norms of the schemes even while they have set aside funds for the S.Cs and the S.Ts. They have under-allocated SCSP and TSP funds. Said Paul Divakar of the Delhi-based Dalit Arthik Adhikar Andolan (DAAA):
“The analysis of the last five years’ Budget indicates that the SCSP has never received allocation beyond 8.1 per cent [of the total], which ideally 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.
“For example, in the last five years the Ministry for Human Resource Development has received Rs.18,896.41 crore under the SCSP/TSP, which is comparatively more than what other Ministries have got. However, only 5 per cent of this is spent on scholarships for Dalit-Adivasi students. The rest of the money is spent under the head of ‘general allocation and asset building’. For instance, in 2011-12, the UGC [University Grants Commission] spent only Rs.63.36 crore on educational schemes for Dalit students out of Rs.780 crore allocated from the SCP.”
Thirdly, the actual expenditure is much less than even the under-allocated amounts for these sub-plans. Ministries declare a particular amount to be spent for the S.Cs and the S.Ts. However, the actual expenditure, which is declared only after two years of such an announcement, shows that the money was not spent at all or spent only partially. Again, most of the funds under the SCSP and the TSP are spent on general programmes. For example, the Department of Agriculture spends a substantial sum on the National Food Security Mission, but a substantial chunk of that amount is shown to be spent under the SCSP and the TSP, conveniently forgetting the point that the two sub-plans were introduced only because universal programmes could not adequately improve the social and economic stigma attached to the S.Cs and the S.Ts. For instance, Rs.400 crore from the National Food Security Mission’s total budget in 2013-14 was shown as money spent on the SCSP. Similarly, substantial amounts spent under health and rural development programmes, the Sarva Sikhsha Abhiyaan and other such programmes were shown under the SCSP and the TSP.
Fourthly, the amounts declared under the sub-plans are also used for purposes that have no direct impact on Dalits and Adivasis. This, DAAA activists say, is a gross diversion of SCSP and TSP funds. For example, the money is spent on building flyovers and highways. The Delhi government, they alleged, diverted Rs.744 crore towards the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. In Odisha, in 2011-12, around Rs.30 crore was spent on the construction of jails, shelters for paramilitary forces, and courts.
Said Paul Divakar: “Out of the Rs.26,328 crore and Rs.9,765 crore declared for the SCSP and the TSP in the Union Budget of 2013-14, 71.59 per cent has been allocated either notionally or to general schemes. Of the money allocated for the TSP, Rs.500 crore was set apart for the construction of highways. From the allocation for the SCSP in 2011-12 and 2012-13, Rs. 64.50 crore was used for animal injections.”
The maximum allocation under the SCSP and the TSP, over the last 30 years, has come from the Ministry of Tribal Affairs and the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. This does not serve the actual purpose of the SCSP and the TSP. These schemes were meant to help the S.Cs and the S.Ts to come out of their traditional occupations, mostly considered lowly and meant to serve the upper castes. Most of these funds were given in the leather industry, for weavers, and for improvement of scavenging conditions. “Does the spending mean that Dalits and Adivasis continue to be good cobblers and good butlers?” asked Divakar.
Most of the other Ministries say it is difficult to set aside funds for the S.Cs and the S.Ts for schemes that will directly impact them. However, the DAAA wants Ministries to come up with innovative ideas to empower Dalit and Adivasi individuals. To look into gross violations in the use of sub-plan funds, the Planning Commission set up the Narendra Jadhav task force in 2010. It pointed out that all Ministries in the Union and State governments fell far short in the implementation of the SCSP and the TSP and reminded them that earmarking of funds for the sub-plans was mandatory.
The Planning Commission has asked all Ministries to set aside SCSP and TSP funds in the proposal stage itself before the Budget. It has categorised Ministries into four groups. The first category has no obligation to earmark funds because of difficulty in quantifying the benefit to the S.Cs and the S.Ts. The other three categories have to allocate funds to the SCSP and the TSP on the basis of their roles in the development, survival, participation and protection of Dalits and Adivasis.
Even after these recommendations, most of the allocations have been oriented towards the survival aspect of Dalits and Adivasis and a minuscule percentage has been channelled towards their development, upward mobility and participation.
Dalit and Adivasi groups had, therefore, demanded legislation that would have these provisions. In January 2013, Andhra Pradesh promulgated the “Andhra Pradesh Scheduled Castes Sub-Plan and Tribal Sub-Plan (Planning, Allocation and Utilisation of Financial resources) Act. The State government incorporated in it most of the recommendations made by the task force it set up for the purpose in 2012.
The lack of accountability is seen as the main reason why governments could bypass the sub-plans all these years. “A nodal authority with independent functioning would mandate Ministries to send detailed proposals to spend on the SCSP and the TSP before every budget. It would also facilitate it with innovative ideas to spend the funds based on the needs and demands of the S.C. and S.T. populations. Overall, it would ensure accountability and participation and help Dalits and Adivasis to claim these entitlements as rights,” said Mallepalli Lakshmaiah, a member of Hyderabad-based Centre for Dalit Studies.
If the two draft Bills see the light of day in Parliament, it would meet four important demands of Dalit activists. First, the constitution of a development council comprising ex-officio and nominated members for the purpose of planning, allocation and utilisation of budgets; second, the creation of a nodal agency at the appropriate level to make governments accountable; third, the earmarking of funds under the SCSP at least six months before the financial year and only towards schemes which have “direct and quantifiable” benefits to S.C. individuals, households or habitations; and fourth, consultation with the “primary stakeholders” before deciding the expenditure under these programmes.
While the Bills address most of the concerns, they still do not make the SCSP and TSP funds “non-lapsable and non-divertible”. A long-time demand of a prescribed penalty in case of non-implementation also does not figure in the Bills. Activists fear that government agencies could exploit these loopholes to prevent the proper implementation of the SCSP and the TSP. Considering the poor history of implementation, these concerns are justified. Despite such doubts, the two Bills are undoubtedly a significant step forward in ensuring social justice and equality