THE Maharashtra government may have made made a provision of Rs 6,725 crore for Scheduled Caste sub-plan and Rs 5,357 crore for a tribal sub-plan, commensurate with their population of 11.5 per cent and 9.4 per cent, respectively, but the bigger question that needs to be addressed is the effective mechanism to ensure its utilisation. Several schemes have failed to explain the statistics pertaining to provisions and the estimated beneficiaries.
The decision to provide Rs 2 lakh for construction of well to an SC farmer under the newly launched Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Krushi Swawlambhan Yojana may send a good social message, but it does not explain how much funds it would allocate for the entire scheme, or how many beneficiaries have been worked out per region.
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Also, under the water recharge schemes, collectors of several drought-hit districts have enforced a ban on taking up new wells to avoid further depletion of the water table. The state aid for SC farmers constructing wells may now trigger conflict in villages. A question is also being raised if the farmers who have availed the funds for wells can still apply for farm ponds scheme, for which the government provides Rs 50,000.
At a time when the government is focussing on making farmers self-reliant, special emphasis on Dalit farmers is a good step, say observers, though they feel the administration will have to provide adequate safeguards for implementation of the scheme and also ensure it is not misused.
According to the Agriculture Census (2010-11), out of the 1.37 crore total operational holdings in the state, 78.6 per cent belonged to marginal and small farmers with land holding less than or equal to 2 hectares. The proportion of operational holdings of SC and ST farmers was 7.5 per cent and 6.3 per cent.
The average size of landholdings of SC and ST farmers was 1.27 hectares and 1.8 hectares, respectively, as against 1.44 hectares for all operational holdings.
The statistics indicate that construction of well would address the problems of water scarcity, since a majority of the small and marginal farmers with landholding less than 2 hectares rely on rain-fed agriculture.
In Maharashtra, out of the total 307.58 lakh hectares’ geographical area in the state, the gross cropped area was 233.80 lakh hectares, while the net area sown was 173.68 lakh hectares (56.4 per cent).
The government has also promised installation of electric water pumps on irrigation wells or solar water pump to boost crop productivity on their fields.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said, “The biggest challenge and the commitment of government is to make the farmers across sections and regions self-reliant through greater investments in permanent infrastructure. Inclusive agro-sector growth will have to address the problems of Dalits and tribals.”
In the education sector, the government has taken forward its integration of tribal children with the mainstream in good district schools for which a Rs 290-crore allocation has been made under the tribal sub-plan. Apart from Rs 300-crore funds for roads and Rs 370 crore for construction of government ashramshalas, the budget also sets aside Rs 112.65 crore for a supplementary nutrition scheme called “Bharat Ratna Dr A P J Abdul Kalam” will be provided. According to a senior official, “Whether it is SC or ST, the allocation of funds is not the problem. But at ground level, there is a clear mismatch between the policy and its execution.”
In the last budget, almost 50 per cent of the plans remained on paper. Majority of the ashramshalas, 1,100 across the tribal belt, are in a state of neglect because of lack of staff or failure to provide the funds in time. The children in many residential schools are deprived of nutritious meal or warm clothes.
The budget talks of expansion to include the supply of one-time nutritional diet to all pregnant women, lactating mothers and children in the age group of 3 to 6 years. Another welfare project for Scheduled Caste is housing for all families by 2019. In rural Maharashtra, it has shortlisted nearly 1,55,936 SC beneficiaries. Under the Gharkul Yojana, the government it will either provide plot, or shelters to ensure no family remains homeless. The budget has provided Rs 320 crore for housing schemes for Dalits.
An outlay of Rs 220 crore has been earmarked to carry out construction of government hostels for OBC students.