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KEEPING THE MONEY SAFE

The government — both at the Centre and at the state level — allocates thousands of crores of rupees for the uplift of the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs). Unfortunately, these funds often get diverted to other purposes. For example, Ranchi-based activist Ghanshyam names a number of programmes in Jharkhand that were meant to benefit the tribal communities of the state. Yet the funds for these schemes ended up being used elsewhere.

“On paper, hundreds of crores have been allocated by the government for the welfare of tribals. But when you look closely you’ll find that much of the money has been diverted to build stadiums, roads, universities and so on,” says Ghanshyam, who is associated with Samvad, a non-government organisation in Ranchi.

According to him, when government officials are questioned, they have a standard answer. “They claim that since tribals and Scheduled Castes would also be using these facilities, there was no harm in utilising the money this way,” Ghanshyam says.

It’s not just Jharkhand, of course. The situation is the same in most states. And the Union government too admitted that over Rs 670 crore meant for the welfare of SCs and STs in Delhi were diverted by the local government for the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

But such diversion of funds meant for Dalits and Adivasis may soon become a thing of the past. With state governments such as Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka recently passing laws making it mandatory to utilise funds meant for Dalits and Adivasis exclusively for them, the Union government too is mulling a central law on similar lines.

A draft Cabinet note on “The Scheduled Castes Sub-Plan Bill, 2013” was circulated by the Union ministry of social justice and empowerment among several ministries. According to an official of the ministry, it is now with the ministry of law “for vetting”.

In 1974, the Government of India started the Tribal Sub-Plan (TSP) for Scheduled Tribes, and in 1979-80, a Special Component Plan (SCP) for Scheduled Castes. Under this, the Centre, states and Union Territories were supposed to allot funds in budgets according to the proportion of the SC and ST population at the national level (16.2 per cent and 8.2 per cent, respectively, right now). But since these are policy guidelines, governments have not been serious about the allocations and their implementation.

“When they were launched, they were considered nothing less than revolutionary. But governments have failed miserably to implement the plans,” says Beena J. Pallical of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, Delhi.

The law, if and when it comes about, aims to right this wrong. Activists say that passing such a law will not be a problem as most parties support it. “There was a lot of assurance given by ministers, MPs, etc. If the government reconvenes the winter session of Parliament in February, we hope this law will be given priority. This is about our right to plan, our right to development and resources,” says N. Paul Divakar, convenor of the National Coalition on SCP TSP Legislation, a body of hundreds of Dalit organisations in the country.

P.S. Krishnan, a former secretary with the ministry of welfare and a strong advocate of the new law, blames the flaws in policy for the state of the downtrodden in the country. “There has been no radical change in the condition of the SCs and STs because of flawed policies and the lack of targeted development of these sections of society,” Krishnan says. “The time has come for change,” he asserts. As a joint secretary, Krishnan was instrumental in presenting the first Annual SCP for 1979-80 and the SCP for the Five Year Plan period 1978-83.

Though activists have welcomed the draft bill, some say that it lacks teeth and is “too bureaucratic”. Krishnan too agrees. “It has the same old structure of ministers and bureaucrats. These people alone will not be able to solve the problem. We need to have people who understand the issues at the grassroots level and can plan programmes targeted at Dalits and tribals,” he says.

The ministry’s draft proposes a “nodal agency” headed by the Union minister for social justice and empowerment at the Centre and the minister in charge in the concerned state government to allocate resources. However, activists are demanding an autonomous development authority in its place. “The authority should have a dedicated institutional set-up at the central and state levels to allocate SCP/TSP funds to the ministries/departments, duly taking into consideration the developmental needs of SCs and STs. This would enable the ministries/departments to show the schemes formulated for the development of SCs and STs under a separate budget head,” Divakar says.

Activists also want penal provisions included in the bill for those found to violate the law. All that the bill says now is that in case of negligence or lack of due diligence on the part of officials, “disciplinary action shall be governed by the relevant service/disciplinary rules applicable to the government officials and functionaries”.

However, Divakar feels that any failure to implement the provisions of this law should be presumed to be an offence punishable under Section 4 of The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, that lays down imprisonment from six months to a year.

In fact, the bill passed in Karnataka recently also specifies that officials found guilty of diversion of funds or non-utilisation of funds meant for SCs and STs could face imprisonment for six months.

Those in the know say that it is unlikely that such a provision will be added to the central law. “I don’t think the government is thinking of such a provision,” says an official in the ministry of tribal affairs, which was also consulted on the draft bill.

Activists want a few other issues addressed in the law. For instance, the bill makes no special provision for women. “It is important that Dalit and tribal women are recognised in the bill and their special needs taken care of,” Pallical says.

In states where similar laws have been implemented, the results have been positive, say experts. “The Andhra experiment has been a success. Dalits are getting a better deal there. There is little diversion of funds and it has led to more scholarships and hostels for students and better funding for programmes,” Ghanshyam says.

It remains to be seen if a similar central law succeeds in preventing funds meant for the welfare of SCs and STs from leaking away to other programmes.