Do Dalit Adivasi Budgets really matter?

Full text of a document released by the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR), a forum launched in 1998, committed to the elimination of discrimination based on caste and Dalit Arthik Adhikar Andolan (DAAA). DAAA is a part of NCDHR and looks at the various economic rights of Dalits including education and entrepreneurship. It uses the Union and state Government budgets as the main vehicle to tracking schemes and entitlements of Dalits.

The year 2020 was an unadventurous roller coaster for everyone especially to the socio- economically deprived communities. The global pandemic ‘Covid 19’ hit and the impact was felt by everyone however the impact of it was differently experienced by various communities. India’s evident caste and class division became apparent globally and the entire country witnessed a series of once in a lifetime events. It broke the backbone of migrant workers’ employment, sanitation workers continued to work throughout despite the Covid 19, violence continued unabated.

Against this backdrop of Covid 19, the Finance Minister presented the budget which people were anticipating with much expectation of what the budget would hold. The budget was a lack luster budget if viewed from the perspective of Dalit and Adivasi with not much promises in the numbers. The total budget estimate is Rs. 34,83,237 Crs and the allocation for the Scheduled castes is Rs. 1,26,259 Crs and for Scheduled Tribes it is Rs. 79,942 Crs.

Dalit- Adivasi students deal with the worst forms of discrimination and ostracisation when it comes to studying in institutes that are highly dominated by casteist administration and of course, the socio-economic condition of their community location.

Post Matric Scholarship scheme is a Centrally Sponsored Scheme and implemented through State Government and UT administration. The Scheme provides financial assistance to the Scheduled Caste students studying at post matriculation or post-secondary stage to enable them to complete their education. The Post Matric Scholarship is one of the largest schemes in the country that is a lifeline for the students from the Dalit and Adivasi communities. This was conceived by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar way back in 1944 to ensure education justice to the communities through financial support. This scheme covers more than 6 million students belonging to the poorest of the poor families across the country, whose annual income falls below Rs 2.50 lakhs. Time and again, there have been constant attacks from the government on the rights granted to Dalits and Adivasis.

While the scheme already lacks implementation at various levels, the govt. instead of addressing the challenges, was on the road to scrapping the scholarship. The Central Govt scheme had nearly shut down across more than 14 states including Bihar, Punjab, Maharashtra and funds to states were not being released under a 2017 formula. After huge agitation from the Dalit community, activists and constant efforts of NCDHR, the govt. rolled back their plan and the government returned to the 60-40 formula and also increased the funding to Post Matric Scholarships to Rs. 59,048 Crs where they committed Rs. 7000 Crs for the PMS annualy. However, in FY 2021-22, the Post Matric Scholarship for SCs is Rs. 3415.62 Crs and for STs it is Rs. 1993 CRs which is insufficient to cater to the growing demand of students.

Dalit and Adivasi women face the worst of discrimination and oppression. Their socio-economic condtions is worsening each year. Crime rates against marginalised women have horrifically increased along with their severity. All of us witnessed the most unfortunate rape and murder of a dalit woman in Hathras last year. However this year the allocation is Rs. 600 Crs for the implementation of both the PCR and the PoA Act. Out of this if we see the allocation to address violence against Dalit women is only Rs. 180 Crs. This is a pittance compared to the number of crimes every year against the Dalit and Adivasis. To ensure empower Dalit- Adivasi women socially and economically, NCDHR suggested various schemes. To close the gaps in due allocation and actual allocation, some important schemes were suggested mainly for SC ST women. In higher education, the demand for paramedical and nursing colleges for Dalit Adivasi women with an allocation of RS 3500 Cr was suggested. Keeping in mind the unemployment of underprivileged women, a fund of Rs 3300 Cr was suggested Sc St Women Employment. A housing scheme called Savitri Bai Phule Housing programme was also suggested to ensure the housing security for SC St women.

India witnessed a massive resistance from farmers in the form of protests against the three farm bills 2020 passed by the Modi govt. which would corporatize the agricultural sector. Though it would have an impact on the land owning farmers, the landless communities like Dalits dependent on the farms will also lose their livelihood. The landowners will exploit their labour if they receive a cut in their income. There has been a huge agitation from landless dalit farmers historically to access their land rights, but they stood firmly with the other farmers during this crucial time as their only source of survival would collapse. There have not been any major steps taken by the govt to reduce the social and economic gap between the landholder and landless class. The farm laws 2020 will worsen the conditons of Dalit and Adivasi farmers who are already being underpaid for their labour.

Ever since the pandemic hit, the economy of India, which was already shaking, collapsed. Endless no. of migrant labourers who obviously are from deprived castes lost their source of income and jobs. Sanitation workers were put forth as frontline workers, without any protective gears and formal training. They were in direct contact of the bio medical waste or waste from households which potentially had covid infected material. If we look at the last year’s allocation Rs 110 Crores for the rehabilitation of women engaged in manual scavenging is totally unutilized.

Keeping in sight the deteriorating condition of Dalit and Adivasi population NCDHR raised several demands:

  1. Social Protection: A minimum social protection floor which guarantees access to universal basic health care including maternity benefit and basic income security to all Dalits and Adivasis.
  2. SC & ST Women Allocation: Allocation of 50% for Dalit women and a special component plan for Dalit women should be established with strong mechanisms to monitor and ensure effective implementation.
  3. PWD Allocation: All schools and hostels must be made disabled-friendly keeping in mind the needs of people with disabilities.
  4. Legal Provision: Lack of legislative framework for implementation of SC & ST schemes has led to lack of implementation of most schemes. There is therefore an urgent need for passing of SCP/TSP legislation.
  5. Access to Education: Education being the single most important scheme for the youth of the community must have enhanced funding adequate to accommodate all eligible students under Post Matric Scholarship, Rajiv Gandhi National Fellowship and other similar scholarship schemes.
  6. Social Audit: All the schemes for the welfare and development of the SC, STs to be strengthened by effective participatory and accountable and transparent mechanisms. Strong social audit and grievance redressal mechanisms in planning and designing and implementation. The general, notional and obsolete schemes for SCs and STs which are more than 70% must be avoided at all costs.
  7. Allocation for DRR and CCA: Allocate population proportionate funds and a basket of schemes for direct Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR)and Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) programmes for SC and ST communities to build their resilience and adaptive capacity.These Schemes can include livelihood to strengthen coping mechanisms during droughts, especially of the landless agricultural labourers, and women farmers and farm workers.
  8. Scheme Design: Introduce innovative schemes that are not only relevant but designed to address the growing gap in development between the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and the general castes to be urgently taken by all the Ministries and Departments.
  9. Access to Justice: Allocation should be increased to prevent crime against Dalit women, men, children, people with disabilities and queer and transpersons. There is need for establishing clear mechanisms to provide protection and security to any victims of caste- based discrimination and violence. The current allocation is grossly inadequate. Special Courts should be set up for speedy trials of cases, and increased compensation should be given to victims of caste and ethnicity based atrocities.
  10. Post Matric Scholarship: Allocation to direct benefit schemes like Post-Matric Scholarships, hostels, skill development schemes should be increased and timely transfer of funds should be ensured to beneficiaries at all cost.
  11. Gender Budget Statement: The Gender Budget Statement restricts itself to women, leaving out non-cisgender identities such as transgenders and sexual identities across the LGBTQI+ spectrum. Gender responsive Budget should take steps to address the needs and have specific allocation for these communities.