The funding for secondary and higher education of Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) students has received a setback in the Union Budget, presented on Friday by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, according to an analysis by Dalit and Adivasi rights groups. The Budget estimate for post-matric scholarships for SC students has been slashed from Rs 3,000 crore last year to Rs 2,926 crore this year, Beena Pallical of Dalit Arthik Adhikar Andolan said. “The revised budget (RE) for 2018-19 was as high as Rs 6,000 crore, which included arrears of unreleased scholarship amount. The arrears continue; even then, there has been a reduction this year,” Pallical said. Similarly, post-matric scholarship for ST students has been reduced from Rs 1,643 crore in 2018-19 RE to Rs 1,613 crore this year.
It pointed out that fellowships and scholarships for PhD and post-doctoral courses have constantly declined since 2014-15 – from Rs 602 crore to Rs 283 crore in 2019-20 for SC students and from Rs 439 crore to Rs 135 crore for ST students. Similarly, allocation for higher education funds for SCs and STs has reduced by 23 per cent in UGC and 50 per cent in IGNOU, it stated.
It is also “unprecedented” that allocations for Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, the nodal ministry, has been “significantly reduced” compared to last year, it was stated. “Other critical ministries with downward trend of allocations in SC development are Rural Development, Micro Small and Medium Enterprises, and Drinking Water and Sanitation. From the Scheduled Tribe perspective, the critical ministries of Micro Small and Medium Enterprises and Drinking Water and Sanitation are the biggest losers, whereas there is only a marginal increase in allocations for the Ministry of Tribal Affairs,” read a statement by the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights.
The importance of post-matric scholarships
Budget estimate for post-matric scholarships for SC students has been slashed from Rs 3,000 crore last year to Rs 2,926 crore this year, while post-matric scholarship for ST students has been reduced from Rs 1,643 crore in 2018-19 revised estimate to Rs 1,613 crore this year. Dalit and Adivasi rights groups argue that post-matric scholarships have been a major enabler to SC and ST students in completing secondary education and aspiring for higher studies.
Abhay Xaxa, from the National Campaign on Adivasi Human Rights, said that unlike laws such as Prevention of Atrocities Act or Prohibition Of Employment As Manual Scavengers And Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, which get dedicated funding for implementation, there is no budgetary backing for implementation of the Forest Rights Act, which affects tribal communities the most.
With SCs and STs accounting for 52 and 38 per cent of casual farm labour, respectively, the organisations pointed out that an area that has received a substantial allocation in funds for SC/ST is the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi, which provides Rs 6,000 annually as minimum income support to small and marginal farmers. Similarly, Rs 110 crore has been allocated for the self-employment scheme for rehabilitation of manual scavengers, a big boost from previous years’ allocation.
Pallical said that in the pre-Budget discussions with the Finance Minister, the NCDHR had demanded that a special 50-per cent component for Dalit and Adivasi women should be created with the SC/ST component, which should also include transgender persons. “The Prevention of Atrocities Act has an allocation of Rs 530 crore, which is welcome, but only Rs 42 crore is allocated for ensuring SC/ST women’s access to justice and compensation under the Budget. We don’t want to be put on a pedestal like a goddess like that Finance Minister’s statement on ‘naari tu narayani’. What we need are more concrete measures,” said Pallical, demanding release of the much-delayed National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data for 2017, which includes details on incidents of violence against Dalit and Adivasi women.