To recompense the ‘untouchables’ for the injustice meted out to them over millennia, a Scheme called ‘Scheduled Caste Sub-Plan’ for the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and ‘Tribal Sub-Plan’ for the Scheduled Tribes (STs) was conceptualised by Indira Gandhi in the Sixth Five-Year Plan period of 1980-85. Strategies were introduced in the Sixth Plan for “channelising to these categories of people their due share of plan benefits and outlays from all the sectors of development in the Annual Plans of States/UTs and Central Ministries at least in proportion to their population, both in physical and financial terms”. The Scheme was supposed to empower all SCs/STs educationally and economically by 1985. But the goals have not been met even more than thirty years later.
To give greater teeth and statutory status to what was a mere scheme, Karnataka replaced it with the Karnataka Scheduled Castes Sub-Plan and Tribal Sub-Plan (Planning, Allocation and Utilization of Financial Resources) Act in 2013 (henceforward ‘The Act’) . It calls for earmarking a portion of state plan outlay for the Scheduled Castes Sub-Plan and Tribal Sub-Plan in proportion to the population of SCs/STs, which is 24.1% now as per the 2011 census. Karnataka is only the second state after Andhra Pradesh to do this. Since then Rs. 60,691 crore were allocated under the Act and a substantial sum of Rs. 55,331.82 crore has been spent.
The Bengaluru Declaration made at the end of the International Conference, held in the city from July 21 to 23, 2017, to commemorate the 126th Birth Anniversary of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar also made ambitious promises for the empowerment of SCs/STs and other marginalised. It hopes to be a “dynamic blueprint that addresses the needs and aspirations of all Indians, and a starting point for an ‘alliance of equity’ of all progressive forces committed to safeguarding the idea of India”.
A “State Council for the Development of SCs/STs” with the Chief Minister himself as chairman is in-charge of planning and implementation of the schemes under the Act. The Social Welfare Minister heads the Nodal Agency at State level and the Deputy Commissioner of the district heads district-level committees to review and monitor the Act’s implementation, identify impediments to its success and suggest measures for overcoming them.
Promises made and never kept
The Dalit Bahujan Movement (DBM), which is monitoring the Act’s implementation and held a recent consultation on it, wants representation given on the monitoring committees to five non-official members from the SC/ST community, who have a track record of working on a sustained basis for the benefit of or on rights and entitlements of SC/ST community (of which at least two members should be women).
In case of an unspent amount out of an allocation under the SC/ST Sub-Plan in a particular financial year, the same is required to be added to the next year allocation, but shall not be carried further beyond that year. The Sub-Plans of the departments are supposed to include only such schemes that secure direct and quantifiable benefit to the SC/ST individuals, SC/ST households or SC/ST habitations that have the potential to bridge the “gaps in development”, especially their individual educational and economic empowerment. Each department, after estimating the gaps in the development of the SCs/STs, is supposed to prioritize the development needs of the SCs/STs through a consultative process.
M. Venkatesh, convenor of the Dalit Bahujan Movement, says, “Injunctions that the State-level Nodal Agency should consult the concerned communities before designing schemes, maintain transparency in expenditure; set up a web portal for tracking the progress of the implementation, publish the list of beneficiaries and facilitate annual social auditing have remained on paper”. Activists claim that the Nodal Agency and the District-Level Review Committees have hardly been meeting while officials refute this and say that regular meetings are taking place. Department-wise committees to review implementation have not been set up and several officials are hardly aware of the Act as trainings have not been given, asserts DBM.
To provide transparency on the spending of the funds, DBM is also demanding that a bank account in the name of SC Sub-Plan Fund and another in the name of Tribal Sub-Plan Fund should be opened and maintained by the respective nodal departments. DBM is also demanding that an Ombudsman be appointed to redress grievances relating to SCSP/TSP implementation. Also, there is no record of any official being punished for not using the funds properly or for letting them lapse.
Though the Act lays emphasis on using Sub-Plan funds for providing direct benefits to individual SCs/STs, DBM says that Rs. 45.58 crore, for instance, have been given to Bengaluru Metro Rail; bus-stands have been built at Savanur and Sankeshwar; and highways and an embankment to check ocean waves have been built by the PWD with the SC/ST Sub-Plan funds. But sources in the government say that though such funds were provided under the SC Sub-Plan and Tribal Sub-Plan once, such expenditures are not being given approval any more. DBM is demanding an amendment to the Act to delete Sections 7(c) and (d) under which money can be given for such general purposes. This is very crucial, says DBM, also since the Proposed Central Bill has specifically mentioned that funds from Sub-Plan must not be allocated to general schemes.
Measuring the outcomes
But has the passage of the decades-old Scheme, the latest law and the expenditure of a substantial amount of the funds bridged SCs/STs "gaps in development" when compared to Karnataka’s state averages, particularly relating to the SCs/STs educational and economic empowerment, which it is supposed to do?
"Gaps in development" means differences in development indicators of the SC/STs when compared to the state averages, particularly relating to human and economic development. Importantly, there is no data on the output indicators and outcomes achieved by spending more than Rs. 55,000 crore. How many SCs/STs were educationally and economically empowered and how many came above the poverty line as a result? Is there an analysis of improvement in Human Development Index for the SCs/STs against the projections for Karnataka state and its districts?
Is there a database on the gaps in human development and incomes? For instance, how many more anganwadis are needed to meet the Supreme Court (SC) direction that anganwadis should be universalised with priority being given to their establishment in all ST and SC habitations, as directed by the SC? What is the malnourishment level of SC/ST children compared to that of the state average? How many SC/ST children out of 100 that join the 1st Standard reach the level of tertiary education when compared to others? A World Bank study a few years back had said that no child from the lowest quintile of the population ever reached the tertiary level.
Both DBM and Karnataka government sources say that the database on ‘gaps in development’ does not exist. In that case, what is the basis for framing the Action Plan where ad hoc amounts are sanctioned for particular schemes? Amounts are sanctioned without mentioning what the base population is that requires those funds and what percentage of that population’s needs are being met with the amounts sanctioned. No data is provided on how long it will take to cover all the proposed beneficiaries if amounts are sanctioned at the current rate.
For instance, an amount of Rs. 3 crores is being proposed by the Department of Women and Child Development (DWCD) for setting up 100 anganwadis in urban areas in the entire state at the rate of Rs. 3 lakh per anganwadi. But there is no database on what the actual requirement is.
A study done by Citizens’ Voluntary Initiative for the City (CIVIC), Bangalore revealed that, on the basis of one anganwadi for 40 children of 0-6 years, the state of Karnataka needs at least 1,12,500 anganwadis to cater to 45 lakh children. However, despite the high levels of malnourishment in the state, there are only about 63,377 anganwadis currently which is just a little more than 50% of the need. Currently existing anganwadis in Bengaluru district are more than 2000, which can cater to about 80,000 children out of 10,52,837 children who are between 0-6 years , which is less than 10% of the children. Even if only 40% children are considered poor and hence need anganwadis, 10,528 anganwadis are needed to cater to 4,21,135 children in Bengaluru, leave alone cover all the children of Bengaluru as required by the SC ruling.
A highly-placed official of the DWCD in-charge of the Integrated Child Development Services countered this saying that the Centre has asked States not to start new anganwadis but to merely relocate them from areas where attendance of children is very meagre since children are anyway being sent to ‘private kindergartens’. But has an assessment been made of why even many poor children are not coming to government anganwadis?
What is shocking is that the Action Plan of the DWCD for the SC/ST Sub-Plan proposed to return savings of Rs. 153.38 crore out of the sanctioned Rs. 697.73 crore. Given the levels of malnutrition in the State and the pathetic state of our anganwadis, can this department afford to return money unused and how will it fulfil the promises made in the Bengaluru Declaration or the SDGs if it does so? Fortunately, the Social Welfare department, which is the Nodal Department, has asked the DWCD to re-work its Action Plan to utilise the amount proposed to be returned as savings.
No impact assessment
Also, did the money spent on schemes achieve the desired outcomes, and if not, why? For example, how many SC/ST families have come above the poverty line as a result of all the interventions, and if they did not, what were the impediments and what are the corrections necessary in the schemes? The Nodal Agency is supposed to conduct these impact assessments but no such study has been done, according to both DBM and Karnataka government sources. In that case, has the Action Plan for all departments prepared in June 2017 been done without an analysis of the impediments that prevented the earlier plans from achieving their goals and without the necessary corrections in strategies being made?
So what have been the impediments to children reaching tertiary levels of education? Meagre pre-matric scholarships of Rs. 750 to Rs. 1,100 per year are being given to SC/ST children whose parents’ annual income is less than Rs. 2 lakh or whose parents are engaged in unclean occupations such as manual scavenging.
At the same time, individual children who achieve 60% marks in the 5th Std. are enrolled by the government in “prestigious” private schools by granting them Rs. 50,000 to meet the expenses there. Children who manage to obtain seats in IITs, IIMs, etc., who are ineligible for scholarships, are given a grant of Rs. one lakh. Meritorious SC/ST children are given prize money of Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 35,000 at various levels of education. While one is not grudging these children their merit-based grants, it appears as though the children from already-empowered families, who are the ones likely to reach higher levels of education and also do well, are being privileged over the really needy and vulnerable children. Making academic excellence a criterion for assisting a child substantially goes against the Fundamental Right to Free and Compulsory Elementary Education of all children, especially the needy.
Granting a substantial annual scholarship and a lump sum of about Rs. 1 lakh to marginalised children when they turn 18 , on condition that they complete 12 years of compulsory education could ensure that we have an educationally and economically empowered SC/ST population in the shortest possible time, which is the objective of the SC/ST Sub-Plan. Allowing them to also earn a stipend as Apprentices under the Apprentices (Amendment) Bill, 2014, during secondary education will further ensure that their parents retain them in school. This will also enable them to come out of the caste-based occupations they have been relegated to over millennia.
The latest Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016 allows children to enter the workforce at 14 years, before they have undergone any skill training. The Skill India programme is focusing mainly on skilling adult workers. Providing skills to children before they enter the workforce should be a greater priority if one intends to have a completely skilled workforce in the shortest possible time.
While the Bengaluru Declaration speaks of making secondary education ‘universal’ and of providing universal hostel facilities, it does not talk of making secondary education compulsory for the 15 to 18 year-olds. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child requires secondary education for the 15 to 18 year-olds to have a vocational stream also as an option.
The Bengaluru Declaration makes tall promises for empowering the marginalised, including the SCs/STs. But since this has been made in the last year of this government’s tenure, the promises read more like a manifesto for the coming elections in 2018 and not as something that will be achieved in the last year of this government’ tenure. Will the Action Plan under the Act, which one hopes will remain relevant irrespective of who comes back to power, herald a new future for the long-suppressed SCs and STs of the State and enable them to join the mainstream?
|Recommendations of the Bengaluru Declaration:|
|Amendments to the SC/ST Act being suggested by Dalit Bahujan Movement:|
Note: As per writer's request two paras were added to emphasise compulsory education and skill training for the 15 to 18 year-olds.