– M.K. Shaji*
In her Budget speech 2020-21, Finance Minister (FM) states that the Budget presented by her aims to address the aspirations of every member of Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs), along with those of “today’s youth” and “every woman”. FM classifies different schemes and programmes in the Budget under three distinct themes:- (i) “Aspirational India”, (2) “Economic Development” and (3) “Caring India”; the three being compared to flowers in a bouquet (of programmes) for ease of living of all the people of India.
Exclusions of SCs and STs from Aspirational India
Under the theme “Aspirational India”, the FM covers programmes related to Agriculture, Irrigation and Rural Development; Wellness (i.e. health-related), Water and Sanitation; and Education and Skills. But there is no programme under these heads which will specifically benefit the SCs and STs. FM’s speech mentions that she has provided an outlay of Rs 85000 crores for the welfare of SCs and “Other Backward Classes” (OBCs). Out of this, the outlay for welfare of SCs is Rs 83256.62 crores as can be been from Statement 10A of Expenditure Profile volume. The FM’s claim that this provision Rs 83256.62 is all meant for SC welfare is a falsity, because the programmes shown in Statement 10A titled as “Allocation for Welfare of Scheduled Castes” are mostly programmes which hardly benefit or at the most only nominally benefit the people of SCs. For example, the Rs 22212.43 crores shown in Statement 10A as outlay for welfare of SCs under the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers’ welfare will not go for welfare of SCs, as the SCs are mostly a non-cultivating class. Only 17.7 percent of SC households in India have any agricultural land as per NSSO data and only 0.6% of SC households have agricultural land of more than 4 hectares and SC households having 2.01 to 4 hectares is only 2.2%. Rs 22212.43 crores shown as outlay for SC welfare under agriculture department constitute 16.52% of the total Budgetary outlay of Rs 134399.77 crores of that Department. Clearly, there is a resort to statistical jugglery of mechanically showing about 16.6% (the proportion of SCs in the total population of India) of the total outlay of the Department as the outlay for welfare of SCs. The figures shown under different other Ministries/Departments, both in charge of programmes covered under FM’s ‘Aspirational India’ theme and also other Ministries/Departments, as outlays for SC Welfare are likewise mere mechanical and statistical jugglery without significant benefits actually going to the SCs. The same is true in respect of figures of outlays shown for Welfare of STs in Statement 10B of Expenditure Profile volume. Clearly the Government shows no real purposeful and serious thinking to effectively include SCs and STs in the “Aspirational India” schemes and programmes by following the original principles of Special Component Plan for SCs (SCP) and Tribal sub-Plan (Ts).
Economic Development Programmes: Total Neglect of Special Needs of SCs and STs
FM in her speech lays great emphasis on encouraging entrepreneurship among the youth. In a language of eulogy, she states: “We recognize the knowledge, skills and risk-taking capabilities of our youth. He is no longer the job seeker. He is creator of jobs. Now we wish to create more opportunities and remove road-blocks from his path.” The present regime from the beginning (2014) has been placing great emphasis on promotion of entrepreneurship among SCs. It had set up a Venture Capital Fund for SCs for which an outlay of Rs 200 crores was provided in FY 2014-15. In FY 2019-20, Venture Capital Fund for BCs has also been added to this scheme, yet the outlay for the scheme was reduced further to Rs. 110 crores and in this year’s Budget the outlay is only Rs 125 crores. Similarly, only Rs 1 crore has been provided for the “Credit Guarantee Fund for SCs” in this year’s Budget.
The FM in her speech claims that the government is determined to end manual cleaning of sewer systems and septic tanks and for this purpose suitable technologies have been identified by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, which is working with urban local bodies for the adoption of these technologies. But what about the rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers presently engaged in such unclean and demeaning occupations, large numbers of whom suffocate to death every year in the toxic drains and manholes all over India? The Self-employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scanvengers has not been provided any increase in outlay in this Budget. The Government needs to introduce a concrete scheme for rehabilitation of all manual scavengers and the younger generation of manual-scavenging communities in dignified occupations, especially utilizing the “huge employment opportunities” that the FM envisages for India’s youth in “construction, operation and management of infrastructure” under the National Infrastructure Pipeline project
Condescending Charity for SCs and STs?
The FM in her speech says that economic development for all (Sabka Vikas) would entail reforms across swathes of the economy, yielding more space for the private sector aimed at higher productivity and greater efficiency. The thrust of the economic development project obviously is near-total privatization and largesse of tax cuts for the corporates and businesses in the hope of cajoling them to invest. In this abundant care for the rich and wealthy, what is provided for the development SCs and STs is only the usual uninspiring fare contained in the routine schemes and programmes for them under the Ministries of Social Justice and Empowerment and Tribal Welfare and there is no or no significant increase in the outlays for such schemes and programmes in this year’s Budget Estimates (BE) compared to the last year’s BE or RE. For some of the schemes like National Fellowship for SCs the outlays have been reduced. Outlay for top class education for SCs remains the same Rs 20 crores in this year as in the last year. Outlays for Boys and Girls hostels for SCs have been reduced from 107.36 crores in last year’s Budget to a mere Rs 30 crores in this year’s Budget.
In this background, it is revealing that the FM classifies the entire programmes for SCs and STs, and for BCs, and the claimed outlay for these programmes of Rs. 85000 crores under the theme “Caring India”. In the absence of any realistic programmes for the empowerment of SCs and STs envisaged in the Budget, there seems to be not much care for these classes and the formulation of the “Caring India” theme therefore reeks of the old Hindu dharma tradition of “daan” or condescending-type charity or alms-giving to the poor and dependents by the rich and affluent.
* The author is Social Justice activist and has been closed associated and working with the eminent champion of Social Justice Shri P. S. Krishnan, IAS (Retd) who has recently passed away.