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Explained: What is Telangana’s Dalit Bandhu scheme, and why has it been criticised?

Dalit Bandhu is the latest flagship programme of the Telangana government. It is envisioned as a welfare scheme for empowering Dalit families. However, it has come under widespread criticism from the Opposition.

Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao addresses a seminar on the Dalita Bandhu scheme (Twitter/@trspartyonline)

Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) recently said his government is ready to spend Rs 80,000 crore to Rs 1 lakh crore for Dalit Bandhu, touted as the country’s biggest direct benefit transfer scheme, to empower Dalits across the state.

KCR’s decision to first implement Dalit Bandhu on a pilot basis in Huzurabad Assembly Constituency, which is due for bye-elections, has drawn widespread criticism from the Opposition, which senses a poll stunt.

Responding to critics, the CM at a party event wondered what was wrong in politically gaining from the rollout of a welfare scheme. He has said Dalit Bandhu will not just be a scheme or programme, but a movement that the state government will pursue with the Centre for nationwide implementation. A government order is yet to be released.

The details of the proposed scheme, as envisioned by the CM, has come out only through a series of closed-door meetings and subsequent announcements.

What is the Telangana Dalit Bandhu scheme?

Dalit Bandhu is the latest flagship programme of the Telangana government. It is envisioned as a welfare scheme for empowering Dalit families and enable entrepreneurship among them through a direct benefit transfer of Rs 10 lakh per family. This is, once implemented on the ground, going to be the biggest cash transfer scheme in the country.

A Dalit empowerment programme on these lines was first announced in the state budget earlier this year. On June 25, the Chief Minister held a first-ever all-party meeting with elected Dalit representatives and leaders to discuss the scheme. During that meeting, it was decided that 11,900 Dalit families, 100 each from 119 Assembly constituencies in the state, would be selected for cash assistance of Rs 10 lakh each without any bank guarantee to start their businesses. An initial outlay of Rs 1,200 crore was sanctioned.

Except for the BJP, which has accused the TRS government of hogwash in the name of a scheme, Dalit leaders from all parties attended the day-long meeting. The funds allocated for the scheme would be over and above the funds earmarked for the SC Sub Plan, the CM has clarified.

Where is the Dalita Bandhu scheme being implemented?

Stating that bringing the benefits of the scheme to the poorest of the poor will be top priority, the CM decided to implement it on a pilot basis in the Huzurabad Assembly constituency. Based on the experiences of implementation in Huzurabad, the scheme will be rolled out across the state in a phased manner. Officials were asked to visit Dalit colonies and interact with Dalit families to find out their views and opinions before preparing guidelines for the scheme. The beneficiaries will then be selected from 20,929 eligible Dalit families of the constituency after scrutiny based on these guidelines.

KCR held an orientation meeting for 427 Dalit men and women from the Huzurabad Assembly segment for an orientation programme on July 26. These included two men and two women from each of the villages and municipal wards and 15 resource persons. They were told the objective of the scheme, and made to understand its implementation and monitoring.

According to KCR, the pilot project will focus on monitoring the implementation of the scheme, evaluating the results, and also creating a safety fund for the beneficiaries with the government’s participation. Apart from a sum of Rs 1,200 crore for kickstarting the scheme, the CM announced another Rs 2,000 crore for the pilot project in Huzurabad.

KCR has lunch with Dalit representatives (Twitter/@trspartyonline)

How is Dalitha Bandhu being implemented?

KCR has acknowledged past schemes for Dalit empowerment, where governments have sought bank guarantees from the beneficiaries, and said his government will ensure Dalit Bandhu is free.

“The governments in the past came out with some schemes and asked for bank guarantees. How can Dalits who toiled with their hands get bank guarantees? Hence, the financial assistance given by the government through Dalit Bandhu is free. This is not a loan. There is no need to repay it. There is no chance of any middlemen in this. Eligible beneficiaries will get the assistance in their bank accounts,” he said.

To promote Dalit entrepreneurship, the government has decided to start a system of reservation for Dalits in sectors where the government issues licences. The government will provide reservations for Dalits in issuing licenses for wine shops, medical shops, fertiliser shops, rice mills, etc.

A beneficiary can choose from a wide range of choices such as buying a power tiller, harvester, paddy planting machines, auto trolleys, tractors, etc for their farms to setting up a poultry farm, dairy farm, oil mill, grinding mill, steel, cement and bricks business, furniture shops, cloth emporiums, mobile phone shops or even Tiffen centres and hotels.

Apart from monetary assistance, the government plans to create a corpus called the Dalit Security Fund permanently to support the beneficiary in the event of any adversities. This fund will be managed by the district collector concerned, along with a committee of beneficiaries. A minimum amount will be deposited by the beneficiary towards this fund. The beneficiary would be issued an identity card with an electronic chip, which will help the government monitor the progress of the scheme.

Why has the Dalit Bandhu scheme faced criticism?

The Congress party in the state has called Dalit Bandhu a poll stunt and a manipulative game by KCR to win over Dalit votes in the upcoming bypolls. The party has questioned the need and intent behind the scheme when the government has failed in upholding existing legislation and schemes for the protection and empowerment of Dalits.

Party leader Dasoju Sravan told IndianExpress.com the TRS government has repeatedly failed to spend the funds allocated every year under the SC ST Sub Plan Act; not cleared more than one lakh of the nine lakh applications received at SC Finance Corporation in the last seven years; deprived nine lakh Dalits of the 3-acre land promised under the government’s flagship scheme; failed to fill job vacancies in government sectors; and not honoured the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act.

“When you (TRS) failed in ensuring self-respect and social security of Dalits all these years, what difference will Rs 10 lakh make in the lives of select beneficiaries?” Sravan asked.

Meanwhile, the All India Kisan Congress vice-president M Kodanda Reddy has demanded the government convene a special session of the Assembly to discuss the implementation of the scheme.

Another criticism is regarding implementation of scheme in Huzurabad, a general constituency. Leaders have said if the government was serious about the pilot project, it would have tried the scheme in a SC constituency with the most marginalised.

It was in response to this that the KCR asked what was wrong in gaining political mileage from rolling out welfare schemes. He, however, quickly clarify that the scheme was being implemented in Huzurabad first just like many of the TRS government’s schemes and programmes that were launched in Karimnagar district.

A bye-election to the Huzurabad Assembly segment is necessitated due to the resignation of six-time TRS MLA Eatala Rajender from the Legislative Assembly and the party in the wake of inquiries against him for alleged grabbing of government lands assigned to farmers by companies owned by his family. Rajender later joined the BJP, and is likely to be fielded from the same seat. While Rajender has started touring the constituency and meeting voters, the TRS is yet to finalise their candidate. Congress leader P Kaushik Reddy who unsuccessfully fought against Rajender in the past has now joined the TRS. Winning the seat by defeating the defector is a matter of prestige for KCR and his party.

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