By Ananya Singh
With the presentation of the 2017-18 Union Budget, the BJP-led Indian government wanted to convince the majority of its determined efforts to improve the welfare of Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes. The Scheduled Caste Sub Plan (SCSP) and the Tribal Sub Plan (TSP) was to be upheld for achieving inclusive growth. However, a closer look reveals a different story altogether.
Empowering with higher budget allocations
TSP was instituted in 1974 to channelise targeted resources for the development of the Scheduled Tribes (ST). Similarly, since 1979-80, SCSP’s existence ensures a balanced flow of economic benefits for the empowerment and welfare of the Scheduled Castes (SC). These funds are to be directed from the Central Ministries and must be in proportion to the population percentage of the weaker sections. As such, 16.6% of plan expenditure must be targeted toward SC developments and 8.6% toward the welfare of STs.
The government allayed worries in 2016 by committing to adhere to the guidelines for SCSP and TSP. The 2017-18 budget was received with much fanfare as it raised the allocation for the SCs and STs, fixing it at Rs. 52,393 crore and Rs. 31,920 crore respectively. This is considerably higher as against last year’s budgetary allotment of Rs. 38,833 crore for SCs and Rs. 24,005 crore for STs.
Dalit and Adivasi rights activists, however, seem greatly perturbed and have slammed the budget for slashing government expenditure for SC/STs.
Highlighting the real percentage
Schemes for the SC community have been reduced from 294 to 256 in total, while ST schemes witnessed a fall from 307 to 261. According to the Narendra Jadhav Committee, 4.25% of the total budget is to be allocated for development of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The 2017-18 budget allocation is equivalent to a mere 2.50% for the weaker sections and is in complete violation of the Committee guidelines.
Further, the allocation for Dalit-Adivasi women amounts to 0.99% of the total budget estimate. The North-East is also the victim of severe budget cuts with respect to various developmental schemes (self-employment, rehabilitation, educational scholarships) that are of benefit to the SC/ST community. In the latest Budget, the Centre increased the allocation for North-East development. However, no new schemes have been introduced, apart from one skill development initiative.
A closer look: Are there real benefits?
An analysis of allocations in the 2017-18 budget reveals an undeniably lower percentage of funds for the weaker sections. With the merger of plan and non-plan expenditure this year, the government has incorporated “non-targeted” or general disbursement in SC/ST welfare budget. This includes administrative expenses such as pension schemes, infrastructure, health maintenance, and salaries, which were previously included under non-plan expenditure. According to the Jadhav Committee guidelines, only “those schemes/components of programmes should be included under SCSP and TSP which ensure direct benefits to individuals or families belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.”
As such, though the figures presented are large, the reality is that only Rs. 25,708 crore is meant for SC community while Rs. 15,643 crore is to benefit the STs. In comparison to the 2016-17 budget, the expenditure for SC and STs has been slashed by 33.79% and 34.8% respectively.
BJP’s duplicitous game
The facts and analysis suggest that the incumbent government has drastically reduced funds available for the SC/ST welfare. It reveals a clear disregard for the Jadhav Committee recommendations.
The merger of administrative allocations into the SCSP and TSP schemes will further exacerbate the conditions of lower sections struggling to attain the same footing as the mainstream Indian society. It allows a diversion of funds, meant for creating equal opportunities for these communities, to general expenditures like pensions and salaries.
Activists have demanded a clear elucidation of schemes under the SCSP and TSP, and their implementation. This is essential if India is to be a country of ‘equal opportunity for all’. The exclusion of schemes that do not directly benefit SC/STs and strict adherence to Jadhav Committee guidelines is of paramount importance today. Till this regressive step is corrected, the objective of ‘inclusive growth’ will continue to flounder in the chaos of inequity and injustice.
Featured Image Source: Visual Hunt
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