DEMANDING WELFARE measures and new policies for the weaker sections of Himachal Pradesh, various Dalit organisations of the state have approached the Governor with a 6-point petition based on resolutions passed in the ‘Scheduled Caste Shimla Adiveshan 2020’, which was held here last week. The groups alleged that the state government spends only a portion of the Scheduled Caste Sub Plan each financial year on the SC population, while loan schemes aimed at uplifting Dalits economically have ended up creating a “debt trap”.
Following Punjab, Himachal has the second-highest percentage of SC population in the total state population. The petition further demands proportional reservation of SCs in education and services as mandated by law, and welfare measures for safai karamcharis who remain “at the lowest ebb of society”.
They have also sought correction of “historical injustice” meted out to forest-dependent communities who became encroachers under forest laws and have not been provided relief by the state under the Forest Rights Act.
New law to enforce SC Sub Plan objectives
The strategy to constitute separate SC Sub Plans (earlier called Special Component Plan for SCs) has been in force in the country since 1979-80 to ensure proportionate flow of plan resources for development of Dalits and to bridge the socio-economic gap between weaker and advanced sections.
From time to time, the NITI Aayog (Planning Commission) has directed the state governments to include only those schemes in SCSPs which directly and quantifiably benefit SC individuals or families, preferably in priority sectors such as primary education, health and nutrition, and drinking water. In 2014, it also asked the states to earmark a portion of the total plan outlay in proportion to the SC population of that state.
Since 2008-09, the Himachal government has been allocating the budget under SCSP proportional to the SC population, which is around 25 per cent, or one-fourth, of the total population. However, the petitioners said, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes has observed that the expenditure on SC-specific schemes in the state was merely 7.36 per cent of the total plan allocation in 2015-16.
According to the petition, Himachal allocates 75 per cent of the SCSP budget to general schemes, citing the reason that there is a mixed population in the state and therefore, use of infrastructure and amenities are also mixed. For the financial year 2019-20, the total outlay of SCSP is nearly Rs 1,800 crore, out of which nearly Rs 1,200 crore has been allocated for various general schemes, the petition said. It added that states such as Telangana and West Bengal, despite having mixed populations, have been lauded for making SC-specific allocations.
Attaching a draft legislation for adequate planning, allocation and utilisation of financial resources and for constution of institutional arrangement in relation to SCSP (as done by two other states), the petitioners have demanded SCSP allocations for exclusive and special schemes meant for the upliftment of SCs.
‘Loan schemes have created debt trap’
According to the petitioners, various loan schemes run by the Himachal Pradesh SC & ST Development Corporation and other national bodies have created a debt trap among the beneficiaries instead of uplifting them economically. It said that out of around 15,000 live accounts with the Corporation, around 12,800 have become irregular or defaulting, involving a sum of nearly Rs 23 crore. “The poor people are forced to undertake projects or scheme which are not viable. High security in the shape of mortgage of assets/hypothecation is obtained,” said the petition, adding that the recovery process implies confiscation of land which would bring thousands of families to the “brink of starvation and deprivation”.
As a relief, the petition has demanded waiving of existing loans and redefining of the loan schemes with adequate finance plans and viable projects, in order to meet the intended objectives of the schemes.
‘Houseless and landless’ safai karamcharis
The petition said that schemes to allott lands for houseless safai karamcharies have not reached them, and their sheds/huts built on government land have not been regularised. Cleanliness-related jobs in the public sector have been outsourced to contractors who exploit the karamcharis by failing to enhance wages or provide insurance, even though they suffer a reduced life span due to the hazardous nature of their work, the petition said.
It has demanded regularisation of their services, allotment of land and provision of insurance cover for the karamcharis. It added that appointment of jobs on compassionate grounds to heirs of those who die during service has been stopped since 2006, and should be resumed.
According to the petitioners, the NCSC observed that reservation for SCs in professional institutions of the state is only 15 per cent against an SC population of 25 per cent. “The government was told in very strict terms to rectify its policy on this issue,” the NCSC observed in its annual report in 2012-13, as states are mandated to provide reservation proportional to the SC population. The Commission also noted that persons are working on “bogus caste certificates”.
The CBI is currently investigating an alleged scholarship scam in the state for alleged irregularities in the disbursement of scholarships to weaker sections to the tune of Rs 220 crore, unearthed last year.
The petition also said that actual representation of SCs in the services sector is not more than 11 per cent, while neighbouring states such as Haryana, Punjab and UP have ensured proportional reservation, and Punjab has even enacted a law to provide reservations in various types of recruitments. The petitioners have requested the state to follow the guidelines of NCSC in this matter.
‘Historical injustice’ to forest communities
Various forest-dependent communities in Himachal Pradesh have been categorised as ‘encroachers’ as revenue records were not updated when they were allotted lands under various settlement schemes, the petition alleged. “Thousands of families became landless because of construction of multi-purpose projects such as Pong Dam and Bhakra Dam, as many of them were not given possession of alternate land,” said the petition, adding that eviction drives have brought many families into poverty. It has asked the Governor to ensure a fair implementation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006, so that rights of traditional forest dwellers are recognised.
Crimes against Dalits
From 2016 to 2019, 8 crimes under the Protection of Civil Rights (PCR) Act and 623 cases under the SCST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act have been registered in the state, the petition said.
“Despite abolition of untouchability, it is still being preached and practiced in Himachal,” the petition added.
Petitioners also alluded to the recent revelation by Social Justice and Empowerment minister Dr Rajiv Saizal in the state Assembly that he was denied entry into a temple on account of being an SC member. Last week, during the SC conference in Shimla, HP University V-C Professor Sikander Kumar had revealed that he was beaten up as a boy for drinking water from a step-well on account of his caste.
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