While the central government claims the uplift of Dalits as a priority — manifested most recently in its choice of Ram Nath Kovind for President of India — data dug up by activists show that the share of budgetary allocation for Dalits has declined dramatically over the past three years. The amount set aside for the Self-employment Scheme for the Liberation and Rehabilitation of Scavengers, for example, has shrunk a hundred times from Rs 557 crore in 2013-14 to Rs 5 crore this year.
“The proportion of the total Budget outlay allocated to Dalits is less than the last budget of the UPA and the first Budget of the NDA,” says P S Krishnan, former Secretary to the Government of India and a champion of social justice for the depressed classes for more than six and a half decades.
While the share of schemes for Dalits in the last UPA budget was 2.49% of the total, it came down to 1.72% in 2015-16, and 1.96% in 2016-17. The allocation for the current financial year is 2.44%, but expenditure is expected to be lower than the allocation.
Beena Pallical, who has been analysing Budget spends on Dalits and adivasis over many years, said “there is a shift not only in the sums allocated, but also in the approach: from a rights-based one, one of honouring rights of segments of society (marginalised for centuries) to one that is paternalistic and welfarist — of bestowing largesse.”
The BJP’s Dalit MP Udit Raj, who is also a member of the Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment, said, “I have been regularly raising such issues in meetings of the Standing Committee. If the government has cut back on this spending, I will raise it with the government. It must be increased, not reduced.”
Krishnan has written to the Prime Minister and Finance Minister pointing out that what is being allocated for Dalits is far less than what is due to them. This, under the Special Component Plan, should be 16.6% — the same as the proportion of Dalits in the country’s population. But at Rs 10,4490.45 crore, the sum allocated to Dalits, Krishnan has calculated, works out to only 5.54% of what is due this year.
The cuts have been the deepest for specific schemes and programmes meant to address discrimination in society, Krishnan said. Among them is the Self-employment Scheme for Liberation and Rehabilitation of Safai Karamcharis.
“Successive governments have accepted the liberation and rehabilitation of safai karamcharis as a priority programme. The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, was replaced by the stronger Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013. But the outlay for this scheme is at variance with the national policy accepted by governments of the past and present, the purpose of this important legislation, and the sympathy that is expressed for ‘scavengers’ from time to time. The Budget Estimate for 2013-14 was as high as Rs 557 crore. The present Budget (2017-18) provides less than 1% of it,” Krishnan said.
The scholarship programme for Dalit students too has seen a deep cut — the current provision is at the historical low of Rs 50 crore. Prof S K Thorat, former chairperson of the Indian Council of Social Science Research, who studies exclusion and deprivation, said, “The cuts in the Pre-Matric Scholarship Programme (set up in 1945) are the most worrying, and have upset plans of many students. Earlier, the Planning Commission oversaw the Dalit spend plan accorded to each of the 26 ministries. Now, with the Planning Commission gone, the monitoring role is that of the Ministry of Social Justice and Welfare. How that (spending oversight) is happening is very unclear now.”
The merger of Plan and non-Plan expenditure under a single Budget head has obfuscated actual spending on Dalits, say activists. “The amount allocated, transparency on how it is spent, and the accountability for that, have gone missing in the past few years. It is not that it was perfect earlier, but now, there is a chain of lies dished out over how much is spent,” Paul Divakar of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights said.
BJP spokesperson G V L Narasimha Rao said, “The Congress and some motivated activists have been raising questions about social sector spending and reduction in some areas. This is nothing but untruth. The reality is that when the Centre transfers more than Rs 200,000 crore additional funds by way of devolution to the states, it was agreed that a large number of schemes and social spends will be incurred by state governments as per local demands and requirements. If anything, the Modi government had done more than other governments for the uplift of Dalits through schemes like Stand Up India and Mudra banks. Dalits have benefited immensely from them.”