In all matters, the symbolic and the substantive are equally important. Therefore, the nomination of Ram Nath Kovind for the office of the President of India is a powerful symbolic articulation of the BJP’s desire to be seen as a pro- Dalit party. However, the substantive part, which is the BJP’s track record in meeting the needs and aspirations of Dalits through governance, is an infinitely better barometer to evaluate its commitment for the welfare of Dalits.
Government expenditure either performs an enabling function (something that public infrastructure, and services do) or directly enhances individual capabilities (through scholarships, housing or work schemes etc.). Penultimately however, all expenditure is geared towards ensuring that citizens can achieve fullness of life. In working towards guaranteeing the welfare of all peoples in India, the state is constitutionally mandated to undertake special measures to bridge the development gap between historically excluded and marginalised communities like the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) and the rest of the population.
The Scheduled Caste Sub Plan (SCSP) and Tribal Sub Plan (TSP) are two policy instruments that are expressly designed at undoing the baneful hierarchies of the past, accelerate the empowerment of SC/STs and further the vision of an equitable society. Specifically, the SCSP and TSP guidelines of the erstwhile Planning Commission mandate that public resources towards SC/ST welfare must be earmarked in proportion to their share in the total population. Accordingly, the government must allocate at least 16.6 per cent of the plan component of the budget towards the welfare of SCs and 8.6 per cent of the plan component of the budget towards the welfare of STs.
Given that in the last three years the state has been (directly and indirectly) complicit in compromising the well-being of SC/STs, it was widely feared that the NDA government would not honour the commitments enshrined in the SCSP and TSP. It was therefore a matter of great relief when it issued a circular in August 2016 agreeing to adhere to the SCSP and TSP guidelines for allocations to the SC/ST schemes, albeit under different names (necessitated with the scrapping of the Five Year Plans, under which the sub plans were housed).
After steep declines and fluctuations in the SCSP (which dropped from Rs 50,548 crore in 2014-15 to Rs 30,851 crore in 2015-16 and Rs 38,833 crore in 2016-17), and the TSP (which dropped from Rs 32,387 crore in 2014-15 to Rs 20,000 crore in 2015-16 and to Rs 24,005 crore in 2016-17), the enhanced allocation in 2017-18 (Rs 52,393 crore for SCs and Rs 31,920 crore for STs) seems like a definitive increase. The Congress was initially relieved that the NDA government restored allocations to the same levels as under the UPA government.
However, a careful analysis of the budget reveals that the NDA has drastically slashed expenditure meant for the welfare of SCs and STs. What the government has done is to classify non-targeted (generic/administrative) expenditure (such as infrastructure maintenance, pension schemes, upgrading hospitals, grants to the Sports Authority of India etc) as SC/ST specific to inflate figures. This is in clear violation of the Jadhav Committee guidelines, which clearly state that only those schemes that “directly benefit individuals, families and hamlets belonging to the SC/ST community” should be categorised as targeted schemes under the SCSP and TSP, something that the NDA’s August 2016 circular committed itself to. Those schemes that don’t directly or quantifiably benefit SC/STs must perforce be excluded under the SCSP/TSP.
Following these principles, if one excludes the generic/non-targeted schemes that the NDA has deceitfully included as SC/ST welfare specific, what emerges is of the Rs 52,393 crore supposedly allocated for SCs, only Rs 25,708 crore are actually meant for the welfare of SCs. Similarly, of the Rs 31,920 crore allocated for the welfare of STs, only Rs 15,643 crore are actually meant for the welfare of STs!
Therefore in real terms, in comparison to previous year’s budget, budget 2017-18 marks a 33.79 per cent decline for SC welfare allocations and 34.8 per cent decline for ST welfare allocations. Compared to UPA’s interim budget (2014-15), this budget marks a decline of almost 50 per cent in funds for SC welfare and 52 per cent for ST welfare. It is extremely unfortunate that the NDA is indulging in mere statistical jugglery, driven by the mala fide intention of being seen to doing good, rather than genuinely work for the uplift and empowerment of the SC/ST communities.