Carrying forward a long tradition, the 2016-’17 Union budget will probably allocate large sums of money for the welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. On the ground, though, it is unlikely the funds will actually reach the intended beneficiaries.
In the last budget year of 2015-’16, as much as Rs 77,236 crore was supposed to be allocated for Scheduled Castes out of the Annual Plan Budget of Rs 4,65,277 crore. In actual fact, less than half of this – 30,851 crore – was allocated. And then, of this, only 8,793 crore (a little over a quarter) was directed specifically towards the development of Dalits as per the guidelines of the Planning Commission.
Where did the rest of the money go?
To find the answer, the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, a forum seeking to eliminate caste discrimination, studied the Detailed Demand for Grants of several ministries and filed queries under the Right to Information. The research revealed that funds supposed to be allocated to Dalits (according to the 12th Plan) are slashed at two junctures: first, at the point of allocation itself and, second, at the moment of usage. Most of the money allocated for Dalits, it found, gets diverted to general welfare projects by the government.
“The Dalit and Adivasi Budgets, instead of directly reaching millions of needy SCs and STs and planning for their development in education, health, civic amenities, skill development and entrepreneurship, have become mere accounting measures,” said Paul Divakar, general secretary of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights. “Specific schemes are supposed to be scaled up or designed to cater to them. Instead, they are spent on general purposes like large hospitals located in cities, flyovers, stadiums, and other large infrastructure which, no doubt may be used by the overall population in general.”
Divakar cites an instance from Bihar. “The Dalit budget was used to connect dominant caste village habitations to the main road,” he said. “But the tract from the caste village to the Dalit basti has been left untouched.”
The figures for allocation for Scheduled Tribes reveal similar discrepancies. In 2015-’16, Rs 40,014 crore was supposed to be allocated for adivasis, but Rs 20,000 crore actually was. And what went directly to them in the end was just Rs 7,399 crore. Put another way, 18.5% of the allocation due.
Like with Dalits, there seems to be no effective monitoring system to ensure that the spend allocated for tribals does in fact benefit them and doesn’t get diverted into general expenditure.
This state of affairs cannot be blamed on the Modi government alone. The following figures show how this farce has played out in budget years before the last one.
The problem extends from New Delhi to the states.
In each state, the allocation of public expenditure for Scheduled Castes and Tribes should be decided by their percentage in the state’s population. But some states don’t abide by this, allocating less money than the population percentage demands. Worse, in these states – as also where the allocation is fair – the money is often diverted.
For instance, the Aam Aadmi Party’s Delhi budget (2015-’16) assigned Rs 3,214 crore for Dalit welfare. But only Rs 231 crore (or 8%) ultimately went towards the intended purpose – the remaining 92% (or Rs 2,973 crore) was diverted, according to the findings of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights. Diverted where? Other welfare schemes that weren’t specifically meant for Dalits.
Here are a few other examples of states diverting the spending meant for Dalits and tribals:
Odisha (in 2014-’15): The ruling party Biju Janata Dal rerouted Rs 172 crore from the Scheduled Caste Sub Plan towards major irrigation and road improvement projects, and Rs 12.41 crore towards the construction of buildings for police welfare.
Jharkhand (in 2014-’15): From the Rs 97.75 crore allocated by the building and construction department under the Tribal Sub Plan, Rs 50 crore was spent on constructing a circuit house. Another Rs 25 crore was diverted towards a court, and yet another Rs 21 crore towards a government residential building. That’s Rs 96 crore out of Rs 97.75 crore gone. In 2013-’14, the previous budget year, Rs 7 crore was redirected towards purchasing a trainer aircraft and a motor glider.
The list goes on. There are many more instances in other states, and other years.
Not surprisingly then, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes castigated state governments in review of the implementation of the Scheduled Castes Sub Plan.
Here are a few quotes from its reports or minutes of its meetings with states:
“When the commission drew the attention to unutilized funds under SCP, principal secretary (SC Welfare) replied that some major departments failed to draw SCP funds due to which funds remained unutilized.”— – A meeting with the Madhya Pradesh government (June 19-20, 2008)
“The commission desired to know… why less expenditure was incurred as compared to the population of SCs… information sent to the commission was not satisfactory.”— – A review of Uttar Pradesh (September 20, 2007)
“…There was a wide gap between allocation and expenditure as a whole and also in few of the individual schemes…”— – A review of Kerala (June 29, 2009)
Funds in education
Let’s now look at a sector that has come under the spotlight after Rohith Vemula’s death – education.
The most recent figures for the University Grants Commission funds for Scheduled Castes and Tribes are from 2012-’13 (this is because, despite RTI applications, the government provided older figures). In that year, in the case of Scheduled Castes (covered under the Special Component Plan), out of Rs 1047.33 crore, only Rs 107.86 crore went directly to the intended beneficiaries in the form of scholarships and coaching.
The rest? There’s no saying.
Instead of transferring the money to individual beneficiaries, Rs 277.48 crore was provided for Grants in Aid to institutions and Rs 609.49 crore for Capital Assets.
And how did these benefit Dalits? Take Rs 44.03 crore (out of Rs 277.48 crore) that was given to central universities for specific programmes, such as paying faculty for additional coaching of Dalit students. Or take the funds allocated under Capital Assets to create assets such as subsidised or free hostels for Scheduled Caste students. Neither of these were used for their original purposes, and were instead used for general institutional expenses and asset building, says the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights.
The same holds true for the Tribal Sub Plan. Out of Rs 507.2 crore, only Rs 35.56 crore goes towards scholarship and coaching (directly beneficial to Scheduled Tribe students).
‘Downright fiscal crime’
If governments stated publicly that they wouldn’t abide by the 12th Five-Year Plan’s recommendations on the allocation for Dalit and tribal welfare, or if they spelt out the amounts they intended to divert, such budgets could at least be openly supported or opposed. But this isn’t the case.
“This is basically a downright fiscal crime,” said Divakar.
It does smell like one. What is more worrying is that despite parties having politicians and ministers from Scheduled Castes or Tribes (including Social Justice and Tribal Affairs ministers), they haven’t addressed the loopholes that let this problem continue during and after each budget.