Asha Kowtal

I was not yet in my first standard of school when the strategies of
the Scheduled Caste Sub Plan (SCSP) (earlier known as Special
Component Plan for Scheduled Castes) were put into force. Way back in
1979-80, the SCSP mandated every State/Ministry to earmark funds from
the Plan outlay, atleast in proportion to the population of SCs in the
State/Country i.e 16.62\% as per the Census records. It meant that
16.62 \% of the budget of every Ministry was meant exclusively for the
development of Scheduled Castes in India.


The logic behind this idea was to essentially, ‘bridge’ the
developmental gaps experienced by the Scheduled Caste people as
compared to the population belonging to socially advanced groups. The
idea was to allocate funds at individual, family and community level
in order to ensure growth within the SC community and bring them at
par with the other general population.

As is the case with several legislations meant for SCs, this one too
failed miserably. Now in the year 2013, more than 34 years later, the
Government of India recognizes the inadequate implementation of the
SCSP and therefore considered it appropriate to provide a legislative
backing to the SCSP strategy through a Central legislation. It is
rather interesting to note that some 30 odd years after Independence,
the idea of SCSP was conceived and then more than 30 years later, it
is being legislated.

A few months ago, in a very welcome step, the Ministry of Social
Justice and Empowerment uploaded the Draft Scheduled Caste Sub Plan
Bill 2013 on its website, inviting suggestions and comments. Through
this, the SCSP strategy and the idea to bridge the development gaps
would finally be legislated in India. It sounded hopeful. Several
activists across the country, including Dalit activists working on the
economic rights for Dalits began to hold series of consultations to
deliberate on the draft Bill and its contents.

Less than two months later, in record time, the Bill was expected to
be introduced in the Monsoon Session of Parliament. However, it did
not happen. Now, several groups and individuals across the country are
keeping their fingers crossed with the hope that the Bill will be
introduced in the Winter Session 2013.

Major Concerns

The Draft SCSP Bill 2013 aims to bridge the gaps without sufficient
analysis of the gaps in the first place.

In rural areas, poverty rates are 9\% higher for Dalits; similarly in
urban areas, poverty rates for Dalits exceed those of socially
advanced groups by 14\%.1 Further, trends in poverty reduction suggest
that these inequalities are growing wider, with an average annual
poverty reduction of 2.4 \% amongst Dalits against 2.7\% for other
groups in rural areas; in urban areas, the annual pace of poverty
reduction was a meager 2.1 \% for Dalits against 2.7\% for other

With scientific data like these available for the policy makers, it
is rather baffling to understand how/why it is believed that the magic
figure of 16.62\% allocations for Dalits will bridge the gaps and
address this growing poverty amongst Dalits as a social group. It is
not rocket science to understand the simple fact that with high
disparity in the poverty reduction rates, this gap is only going to
remain unaddressed.

In the much-needed exercise of gap analysis, the need for creation of
wealth for Dalits is stark and visible. The entire wealth and
resources of this country is controlled by a miniscule number of
people from socially advanced classes; one cannot dream of any
long-term structural change unless some serious steps towards
re-distribution and creation of wealth are taken up. Access to land
and autonomous resources along with special schemes for education,
employment, and entrepreneurship for Dalits is crucial.

The SCSP Bill 2013 perhaps has the right intentions but without an
accurate analysis of the gaps that it aims to address, it will seem
like mere charity done for the poor and marginalized SCs of India.
Well meaning legislations like the SCSP should aim at bringing in
structural changes. On the contrary the nasty truth is that the
‘benevolence’ of the budgets provided by the Indian state for
development of Scheduled Castes in India has suffered from massive
diversion and pilferage both at the stage of allocations and

Further, there is no dearth of statistical evidence to show that the
situation of SC girls and women is worse off as compared to general
caste women and SC men. One of the biggest drawbacks of the Draft SCSP
Bill 2013 is that it does not take into the account the multiple forms
of exclusion faced by SC women. The Bill does not acknowledge this
visible gap and hence it is further baffling to the extent that Dalit
women activists begin to wonder if this Bill is intended to maintain
this gap forever.

The Bill in its current form does not set aside exclusive resources
for development programmes for Dalit girls and women. Without this
focus, the Bill will lack meaning and purpose in addressing the gender
and caste inequities faced by Dalit women in India.

Just like the institutions where the Draft Bill originated, it too
reeks of caste and patriarchy. It not only lacks a focus on Dalit
women, but also fails to even acknowledge the fact that women within
the SC community need an extra push to come up to a level playing
field. The farcical nature of this story is best understood by the
fact that the word ‘woman’ appears only once in the Bill and even here
it only refers to nomination of three women social workers from
organisations working for development of Scheduled Castes as members
of the National Scheduled Caste Development Council which will oversee
the implementation of this Act.

Why the hurry?

The strategy proposed through the SCSP has been around for over three
decades now. It has been infested with problems of notional
allocations, diversions of funds and mis/under/non-utilization of
funds. What was the plan of the GOI and political parties in power to
address the issues of failure of accountability? Nobody knows how the
new legislation will set right the institutions that are corrupt and
completely biased along caste and gender lines.

A special legislation like the SCSP Bill should be well-grounded,
scientific, visionary and path breaking. It should aim at breaking
centuries of exploitation and oppression faced by Scheduled Castes in
the country. Without a thorough planning and impact analysis of the
SCSP, the legislation will remain a feather in the cap of policy
makers and a failure at the level of implementation itself.

A decade or two later, the impact of a special legislation like the
SCSP may turn out to be an unfathomable exercise, since it is unclear
what it initially set out to achieve. For example – without an
inbuilt mechanism to review the impact on SC women, how can schemes
and programmes be developed, approved and implemented by the
ministries? The SCSP Bill does not include a gender audit or mandatory
annual report on development indicators for SC women. How then will
the schemes be evaluated and corrected? What will be basis of
allocation of funds?

Every public policy including special legislations like SCSP should
be based on the needs and requirements of the community. In its
current form the SCSP has been drafted without any inputs from the
beneficiaries. While the world over, bottom-up participatory planning
processes are being encouraged, here the need to dialogue with SC men
and women beneficiaries is not even thought of.

The discourse on the SCSP bill and economic rights for Dalit women is
extremely relevant for the autonomous Dalit women’s movement in India.
The time is right to stake the claim on resources meant for
development and social change. There is a growing awareness that by
lobbying for policy changes and monitoring implementation of schemes,
we should not lose sight of the demand for structural changes.
Opportunities such as these provide tangible ways to work towards
demanding the Indian state to usher in some radical changes. For
example: the SCSP Legislation could envisage a body which can mandate
revenue departments of every State to work towards establishment of a
Dalit land bank in each state to identify and acquire available lands.
The SCSP funds can easily be allocated for purchase of these lands for
Dalits. In this way the land distribution process can acquire some
administrative teeth. The reality is that the SCSP legislation has the
potential to bring in path breaking, long-term changes in the lives of
a community that has been violated and excluded for centuries.

The question is whether our policy makers share the same farsighted

Dalit women have the power to be the game changer. It is time to do
just that.

“..turn in any direction you like, caste is the monster that crosses
your path. You cannot have political reform; you cannot have economic
reform, unless you kill this monster.”

~ Dr. B.R Ambedkar.


[1] These group disaggregated figures date back to the 2009-2010 NSS
but based on the calculation in line with Planning Commission’s new
poverty line. GOI (2012),’Press note on Poverty Estimates 2012′ at:\_pov1903.pdf

[2] S. Thorat, A. Dubey(2012), ‘Has Growth been socially inclusive
during 1993-94 and 2009-2010?’ EPW XLVII(10), pp.43-54.

[3] Please see ‘Loot of SC/ST funds in last year’s Union Budget’ by
Karthik Navayan on Round Table India (published on 23rd February,
2012), for figures pertaining to the massive diversion of funds in
just two years (in the Union Budgets for 2010-11 and 2011-12).


Asha Kowtal is General Secretary of the All India Dalit Mahila
Adhikar Manch (AIDMAM).

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