On 31 August 2010, a memorable scene played out in Parliament: Finance Minister Arun Jaitley cornered the then United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government for allegedly diverting funds meant for the welfare of Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes (SCs/STs) towards Commonwealth Games projects.
The master parliamentarian was questioning the then finance minister P Chidambaram on the alleged diversion of funds meant for the welfare of SCs/STs to Commonwealth Games projects by the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi.
Jaitley, then leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, said, “Now, merely because some persons in Delhi who happened to be belonging to the Scheduled Castes (SC) are also going to go and watch the Commonwealth Games, you can’t say that the stadia will be in the larger kitty of the SC funds. The Commonwealth Games is not a project that either directly or indirectly or remotely goes to the benefit of the Scheduled Castes in specific.”
Parliamentarians from across the political spectrum agreed to the point made by Jaitley: “If Air India flies aircraft, persons from any caste or creed can travel in them or fly in them. But that does not mean that the funds meant for the welfare of the Scheduled Castes can be diverted to such projects and (the government can then) say that they are beneficial to them. The object of the funds is really that these weaker sections need certain help in areas where this population predominantly resides.”
In public, Jaitley may be politically correct when it comes to budgetary allocations, known as Tribal Sub-Plan (TSP) and Scheduled Castes Sub Plan (SCSP) earmarked for the welfare and economic and social liberation of Adivasis and Dalits. They reiterate that Central as well as state governments should make budgetary allocations to them based on the percentage of SCs/STs in the total population. For instance, as per the 2011 census, Dalits and Adivasis should get 16.6 percent and 8.6 percent respectively of the allocation in the Central Plan Budget. Similarly, all state governments should allocate funds in their Plan Budget according to the respective proportion of the population.
But when it comes to practice, India’s political class and bureaucracy sheds political correctness and competitively indulges in denying and diverting of funds meant for India’s most impoverished sections. It is precisely this systemic discrimination that has ensured that these sections continue to exist on the margins of society.
A critical look at the latest Union Budget (2014-15) reveals that Jaitley simply denied Rs 47,260 crore and Rs 25,490 crore to Dalits and Adivasis, respectively. However, Jaitley is not alone. The history of Indian budgets is replete with longstanding denial of deserving allocations.
The National Coalition For SCSP-TSP Legislation, an umbrella organisation of Dalit and Adivasi groups, recently tabulated (using budget documents and RTI) the funds denied to Dalits and tribals from seventh to twelfth five year plans (till 2014-15) in the Union Budget. The final numbers are staggering — Rs 5,27,723.72 crores!
To put it differently, Union Budgets in this (nearly 30-year-period) should have allotted Rs 8,75,380.36 crores. But the amount allocated was Rs 3,47,656.64 crores. It is safe to say that more than 60 percent of the due amount was denied to the marginalised sections of society.
“Political leadership and an insensitive bureaucracy are sabotaging the foundational principles of the Constitution, on which the structures of TSP and SCSP are built. They have been routinised, trivialised and converted into a mere arithmetical-statistical exercise by showing notional* and imaginary figures of allocations, which had no relationship with measures required for the advancement of Adivasis and Dalits. Central as well as state governments have missed the vital dimensions of economic liberation and educational equality of the SCs and STs,” says PS Krishnan, a former Central secretary, who played a crucial role in developing TSP and SCSP in the initial years. *(The National Coalition of SCSP/TSP defines notional allocations as those allocations that are only on paper; where the proportionate budgets are reported but not utilised to directly benefit the communities)
So, denial and diversion of funds becomes a lethal combination in the institutionalised deprivation of the SCs and STs. The best way to understand how this systemic oppression works is to critically scrutinise documents related to Plan Expenditure details of successive governments.
A starting point would be the central and eastern states, where several constitutional and government bodies have reiterated that historical injustice and poverty is acting as a nourishing ground for Left-wing extremism.
Jharkhand: Plan expenditure details of the Jharkand government show that crores of TSP funds were diverted to purchase “two aeroplanes — VIP version, one trainer aircraft and one motor glider, infrastructural development of Jharkhand Flying Institute at Hazaribagh, Palamau, Dhanbad, Dumka and Giridih, expansion/construction of runways in different district HQ, construction works of court building/residential building/police barrack in court campus and other construction works related to court, additional commandant house/SDO House in Ranka and Mahuatand/Dy SP house, construction of residential buildings for honourable ministers, MLA residence/senior officers’ residence, Helipad in cm house/officers’ quarter in Ranchi, building and other works in the Collectorate of Ranchi and Khunti, construction of eight houses for Hon’ble Judges, residential buildings for Hon’ble Ministers, MLA residence/bungalow residence at Khunti (and so on).”
Madhya Pradesh: An analysis of the Madhya Pradesh state budget in the financial year 2014-15 also throws up interesting and glaring diversions of SCSP and TSP. Funds are diverted to huge infrastructural projects, including highways and bridges, beautification of lakes and ponds, animal injections, building synthetic hockey turfs, raising State Industrial Protection Force and very significantly, the Sinhastha Mela, also known as the Ujjain Kumbh Mela. This festival is historically notorious for promoting untouchability. Funds are also diverted to pay allowances to Gau Sevaks, a pet project of the Sangh Parivar.
Chhattisgarh: Similarly, an analysis of Chhattisgarh Budget breakups for financial year 2014-15 reveals that both TSP and SCSP funds were diverted to build capital assets for ‘Special Police’ and ‘Police’ among others.
Odisha: Corresponding documents from Odisha point out that TSP and SCSP funds were diverted to schemes like modernisation of police and other forces, construction of jails, construction of police barracks, residential buildings for police through Odisha State Police Housing and Welfare Corporation, special funds for police training.
Gujarat: For several years now, Gujarat, hailed as the model state of the India has also been systematically diverting SCSP and TSP funds. Diversions are mainly channeled into huge infrastructure projects and major irrigation projects that largely benefit rich farmers. Dalits constitute the major chunk of landless population in Gujarat. Here, tribals also constitute the largest group of displaced people — 76 percent of the total, as per the estimates of the Planning Commission. In 2012-1013, funds were also diverted to celebrate Swami Vivekanand’s 150th birth anniversary — an interesting diversion in the context of several reported cases of brutal violence against Dalits in several parts of the country for celebrating Ambedkar Jayanti.
National Capital Territory (NCT), Delhi: NCT, Delhi has its own history when it comes to diversion of funds — from the notorious and controversial diversion of crores for the Commonwealth Games to building flyovers and highways, down to distribution of Diwali sweets.
Andhra Pradesh: As a result of effective political mobilisation by Dalit and Adivasi groups, the Congress government in Andhra Pradesh put in place SCSP and STP Sub Plan Act in December 2012. The Act, the first-of-its-kind, has several limitations. But it was welcomed as an initial step in the history of developmental legislation for SCs and STS. But before the enactment of the Act, Andhra Pradesh also had a history of denial and serious diversions. In 2010-11, funds were diverted for Ring Road projects, salaries of college teachers, video conferencing facilities at Mandal Headquarters and so on. In 2011-12, funds were diverted to government advertisements in print media, assistance to Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (APSRTC) and in 2012-13, for projects like Hussain Sagar Lake, Catchment Area Improvement Project and Hyderabad Metro Rail Project.
Bihar: In several Central and state projects, sometimes, funds are officially set aside towards welfare of SCS and STS. But asymmetric power relations and structural factors prevent them from reaching intended beneficiaries. A recent study by Prayas Gramin Vikas Samithi about the construction of five roads in the Makdumpur block of Jehanabad district of Bihar, using SCSP funds in Bihar is a telling example. The project envisaged connecting main roads to Dalit habitations. But in most cases, road building was stopped one or two kilometers from the Dalit Basti where caste Hindus reside. The influential dominant caste population benefited from it and Dalits are still using kaccha roads. Bihar has also documented instances of untouchability in the form of Dalits being prevented from using common roads.
“Is it not strange that Adivasi and Dalit money is diverted to fortify the repressive mechanisms of the state, like the police force, in this sensitive belt? Are they not suppressed and killed using the diverted funds actually earmarked for them. Why was this fund not used to develop their livelihoods?” asks Beena J Pallickal, national coordinator, National Coalition of Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR).
The diversion is in sync with the recent prison data released by National Crimes Records Bureau (NCRB), that more than 53 percent Indian prisoners are Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims, a percentage disproportionate to their actual numbers in the total population.
The diversion also mocks at the recent academic studies published by journals like Review of Agrarian Studies which established that “there has been an intensification of Adivasi livelihoods — an uncertainty linked to land loss, the non-viability of cultivation, decreasing work days in agriculture, and, consequently, dependence on casual work”.
The study by Vikas Rawal of Jawaharlal Nehru University, using 2011 Census and National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) data, established that “only 3 percent of rural Adivasi households had treated tap water in their homes, less than 5 percent used electricity as the main source of lighting, (only) about 16 percent had any kind of latrine in their homes, 1.7 percent had a bathroom and closed drainage in their homes, only 2.6 percent had an indoor kitchen and access to smokeless fuel and 41 percent of rural Adivasi households did not have any of the basic assets (like bicycle, radio or TV that were enumerated in the 2011 census)”.
Using NSSO data, the same study also proved that “progress in provision of basic amenities like drinking water and sanitation between 1993 and 2012 was dismal”. It is also significant that even by the controversial estimates published by the Planning Commission, 47 percent Adivasi households are below poverty line (independent scholars have established that the actual figures are much higher). The question arises: By denying and diverting TSP and SCSP funds to fortify repressive mechanisms and luxuries like aircraft, helipads and plum residential complexes, was not the state also waging a sophisticated civil war through financial means?
Discrimination extends to schemes, projects
Paul Divakar, convenor of the National Coalition of SCSP/TSP gives the example of education. “Through careful RTI applications, we have documented the flow of TSP and SCSP funds to the University Grants Commission. It is very clear that majority of the funds are used to build physical assets for the institutions. Only a nominal amount is actually spent towards fellowships and scholarships which are important for Dalit and Adivasi students to come up in an extremely casteist academic atmosphere”.
“Apart from strictly preventing diversion, it is important to ensure direct policy-driven benefits for SCS and STS through specific interventions. In many schemes — for which the nodal ministries are reporting a part of their plan allocations (for the schemes) as the proportion of funds meant for benefiting SCS/STS— the scheme/any component of it, has not been designed to address specific needs and challenges of SCS/STS; rather, it’s a scheme designed for the entire population, and the nodal ministry is ‘assuming’ that SCS and STS will also benefit from it along with other sections of the population.
Ministries/departments are blind to the reality of social discrimination and isolation faced by them,” points out Subrat Das, a faculty with Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability, Delhi.
Das cites the example of the National Rural Drinking Water programme to further his point. “The guidelines of the scheme focus on provisioning of piped water supply in rural areas. However, in some parts of the country, the st communities live in hilly regions, where piped water supply cannot be provided. What is more appropriate for such habitations is something like a Spring Box, where there are eternal springs. But the guidelines of this scheme do not take this additional difficulty and challenge pertaining to STS into account,” he says.
Similarly, it is pointed out that Ministry of Human Resources Development is also callous while using SCAP and TSP funds for general purposes like building capital assets. In a detailed study of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, a major Central government programme, Jayashree Manghubhai has documented three kinds of exclusion faced by SC/ST students — by teachers, by peer groups and by the ‘system’. This includes “segregated seating arrangements, undue harshness in reprimanding SC children, not giving time and attention to SC children, excluding SC children from public functions in the school, making derogatory remarks about academic abilities of SC children, not including SC children in games and play activities, reinforcing caste characteristics in syllabi and textbooks, incentives schemes meant for SC children not being implemented in full, lack of sensitisation of teachers in teacher education and training” and so on.
“It is absurd to assume that SC/ST students will benefit equally from general schemes when such discrimination is in practice,” says Sanjay Bharathi, an activist and researcher.
“Our leaders across the political spectrum dream of a day when India will become a powerful economic force. But with systematic exclusion of Dalits and Adivasis, how can economic growth be achieved?” asks Paul Divakar.
“We have analysed most of the Union Budgets and state budgets. Apart from the grave issues of denial, non-utilisation and diversion, another common trend is that about 70 percent of the allocated amount goes for survival schemes and not for developmental schemes, which fall under the economic sector. This clearly shows that economic development of SCS and STS is not the priority of governments. If governments don’t want to continue with the master-slave relationship, along with survival schemes, they should initiate long-term holistic development projects. That’s why we are struggling to bring in legislation on SCSP/TSP to make violations a criminal offence. Currently, there are only guidelines,” adds Divakar.
But will the Indian establishment bring in a stringent legislation on this longstanding demand of Dalits and Adivasis? Public documents and activists say that the UPA government, in its second term, was close to introducing and passing such a legislation after intense internal debate and external pressure by activist groups.
“The draft Bill prepared by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment had several deficits. But it was a positive step. The bill got sabotaged because two prominent figures in the UPA establishment — Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia — were vehemently opposed to it,” says PS Krishnan, who played a significant role in drafting and pushing the Bill.
Interestingly, on 27 June 2005, in a speech at the 51st meeting of the National Development Council, Manmohan Singh had said: “In the mid-1970s, the Special Component Plan and Tribal Sub Plan were initiated. Tribal Sub Plans and Special Component Plans should be an integral part of Annual Plans as well as Five Year Plans, making provisions therein non-divertable and non-lapsable, with the clear objective of bridging the gap in socio-economic development of SCS and STS within a period of 10 years.”
The two-term UPA government witnessed diversions of Adivasi and Dalit funds, exposing that Singh’s speech above was just a lot of words. Although Singh and the Congress may be gone, the BJP seems set to follow in their footsteps. The track record of denial and diversion of TSP/SCSP funds in BJP-ruled states is dismal.
In all this, India’s long-suffering Dalits and impoverished Adivasis seem to be asking the question — Where did all the money meant for us go?
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