Cleaning a sewer: the budget is certainly not for him!

NEW DELHI: While presenting the Union Budget 2015-16, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s speech was peppered with smart announcements such as reduced tax on corporates — 25 percent from the current 30 percent. India Inc was jubilant and called the Budget visionary. Why not? After all, the Budget caters to the rich and the corporate houses.

As a small percentage (about 15 percent) of India’s population becomes extremely affluent, millions of Dalits and Adivasis will continue their struggle to get the most basic necessities due to the cruel and unjust cuts in allocations to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes sub-plans, also known as the Scheduled Caste Sub Plan (SCSP) and the Tribal Sub Plan (TSP).

The SCSP and the TSP, the most important budgetary components for Dalits and Tribals initiated in 1979,became necessary as Dalits and Tribals were continuously denied their adequate share of government funds essentially required for their development.

A closer examination of the drastic cuts in social sector expenditures such as the SCSP and TSP shows a blatant Modi Government disregard for poor Dalits and Adivasis and their concerns, and a downright dismissive attitude to the rights-based paradigm.

In Budget 2015-16, Dalits have been allocated only Rs 30,850 crore, while the allocation for Adivasis is only Rs 19,980 crore. However, as per the SCSP/TSP Guidelines, the SCs should have been allocated 16.6 percent of the Plan Outlay, which amounts to Rs 77,236 crore towards the SCSP and the STs should have been allocated 8.6 percent of the Plan Outlay, which amounts to Rs 40,014 crore towards the TSP. Dalits, therefore, have been denied a total of 61 percent under the SCSP, and Adivasis have been denied a total of 53 percent under the TSP. The total percentage denied to both SC/STs is a shocking 57 percent!

When compared to allocations in Budget 2014-15, the SCSP allocation was Rs 43,208 crore and the TSP allocation was Rs 26,714 crore, this year’s allocation has seen a sharp fall and is anti-SC and anti-ST.

This allocation shortfall comes at a time when the Government is set to roll in the Universal Social Security net for all. Seeking to create a social security net for the poor and underprivileged is a laudable step but with a very anti-Dalit and anti-Adivasi Budget, the vulnerable and marginalized communities in India are facing very testing times. As atrocities and violence against these communities rise, the systematic violation of their economic rights will further aggravate violence, including torture.

However the Modi Government fails to see the established link. A few lessons for the Government:

  1. the overwhelming majority of those subjected to torture and ill-treatment are from the lowest strata of society;
  2. poverty and marginalisation makes Dalits and Adivasis easy and defenceless targets;
  3. rural communities, including Dalits and Adivasis, are forcefully evicted from their land to make way for economic development projects that fail to take into account their rights. The Land Acquisition Act is a classic example.

Demonstrating that violations of economic, social and cultural rights can lead to torture and other serious forms of violence strengthens the pressure for action not only on States, which do not want to see their economic and social policies explicitly linked to violence, but also on the corporate sector, banks and development agencies.

As far as the Budget is concerned, it is anti-reformist to the core. Take this: To reduce the fiscal deficit and eventually get the budget back to surplus, the only solution that Jaitley could think of is expenditure cut in social development sectors, and those cuts invariably had to be in the allocations towards the SCSP and the TSP.

The rate at which the Finance Minister wants to reduce the fiscal deficit between 2014-15 and 2017-18 is higher than the rate at which he expects the gross tax revenues to rise so simply put (in the words of the Government) expenditures have to be cut. But there are other viable solutions that Jaitley could have explored. If the Government wants to bring in a budget that keeps shifting us back to surplus, then maybe it is time to admit it’s not all about cutting spending, but that revenue also needs to be increased.

With mainstream political parties turning away from social sector issues, the need for social activism is even greater. Civil Society organisations and people’s movements are actually stronger than ever before. Principles of transparency, accountability and participation need to be applied for collective change.

A rights based approach towards the SCSP and the TSP is essential for inclusive development and therefore a central legislation is recommended. The duties and responsibilities of the Union and State governments regarding SCSP and TSP policies should be clearly identified and defined for the purposes of reporting, transparency and accountability. Allocation of outlays, criteria of eligibility for schemes and programmes, should be clearly spelt out in the legislation.

The population proportion based resource allocations for SCs/STs need to be clearly gender equity based, thereby earmarking 50 percent share for SC/ST women and girls.

With the then leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley’s intervention in the diversion of SCSP funds for the Commonwealth Games, the Delhi Government was forced to return about Rs 520 crore back to the Delhi SCSP pool. A similar strategy should be followed by the Finance Ministry for all diversions in the last five years of SCSP and TSP funds to the Central and state governments.

A proactive plan should be evolved with due participation of SC/ST communities in all parameters of growth and development such as education, health, agriculture¸ industry and services. Systems should be in place for participation of SC/ST communities in planning and implementation, and measures of accountability and transparency, and provision of penalties for negligence.

(N.Paul Divakar is the General Secretary[2] of National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) based in New Delhi.)