Dalit Unemployment: How Proper Implementation of the SC/ST Sub-Plan Could Even the Playing Field

by Mathur Sathya

Stranded migrant workers taking rest on the way to their village, Wikimedia Commons, 23 May 2020, Photo by Sumita Roy Dutta

Bablu Ahirwar, a 34 year old Dalit man from Rajasthan, had been working as a wage labourer in constructions before COVID-19. Like most informal workers, he too lost his livelihood when the pandemic hit and had to walk hundreds of miles to reach his village with his family. Upon reaching the village, the village headman refused him job on account of his caste.

Bablu’s story is not an isolated phenomenon but the story of millions of Dalit migrant workers during the COVID-19 crisis. While we witnessed millions of workers suddenly stranded in their country and made to walk thousands of kilometres to their home-towns, caste had it’s own role to play in their misery. Dalits and Adivasis form 40% of seasonal migrant labourers while they form only 25% of the overall population. And they are the least paid and most worked section of the migrant labour force (1 ).This over representation of Dalits in migrant labour group and them having to who are forced into accept jobs with little labour rights are a result of a number of factors. Chief among these are violent anti-Dalit atrocities , climate change induced droughts and subsequent lack of employment in rural areas and natural disasters (2).

Between 2009 and 2018, crimes against Dalits have risen by 6%. In regions like Marathwada, in the state of Maharashtra, heavily affected by drought in recent years, studies show that Dalits are the most severely affected (3). And a study by IndiaSpend shows that Dalits are the worst hit and most poorly treated by the government and their neighbors during natural calamities (4). All of this robs them of the opportunity to have a stable livelihood in their own villages, pushing them all towards cities.

The tragedy of this situation is even more appalling considering the fact a detailed solution — The Scheduled Caste Sub-Plan -has been with us for 40 years and it is only by deliberately negligence of various governments has brought us to the current state of affairs.

The Scheduled Caste Sub-Plan (SCSP)

In the year 1978, India introduced Scheduled Caste Sub-Plan to empower Scheduled Caste or Dalit families economically by earmarking funds for various skill development, small business and other income generating programmes (5). The main governing principle of the plan was proportionality. The Principle of Proportionality dictates that out of the budget every year, a proportion equivalent to the proportion of Dalit people in the population should earmarked for schemes empowering the employment of Dalits, and particularly, resulting in an increase in their income (6). A similar provision exists for Scheduled Tribes or Adivasis. Later, this was adopted by 27 state governments in their state budget plans. In spite of the plan existing on paper for decades, an UNDP Study finds the plan being implemented very poorly across states. In several cases, funds are found to be diverted popular schemes that are not specific to SC community (7). While this has been the norm for decades, we saw a stark example during the much talked about Common Wealth Scam of 2010.

In 2010, India stepped up to be the host of Common Wealth in Delhi and spent lavishly to “beautify” the city, hiding the reality of inequality and poverty that characterises all of India big cities. It was estimated there was corruption amounting Rs. 35,000 crores (Nearly USD 5 billion), from giving out contracts for infrastructure ramp up to spending on sports persons. Even during this controversy, what went largely unnoticed from mainstream discourse was the fact that an RTI (Right-to-Information) petition exposed that tens of millions of rupees were being diverted from The SC/ST Sub-Plan schemes designed for the Dalit and Adivasi communities to fund the Common Wealth Games (8). In essence, these communities were illegally and unfairly made to pay the bill for hiding the injustice meted out to them from the view of the visiting foreigners.

Dalit rights organisations that brought this to light, after protests and legal battle in the Supreme Court managed to get special provisions for identifying sub-plan funds implemented in the budget for more accountability (9). The Comptroller and Auditor General of India, the authority for auditing accounts of union and state governments in India, often finds appalling discrepancies in allocation of these funds (10). In many instances politicians use funds from the plan to foot the bill for popular schemes that are not empowering Dalit community but for winning them votes in elections or to divert funds to other departments in order to balance accounts that they have mismanaged(11). For instance, in the year 2010–2011, Delhi government was alleged to divert nearly USD 224 million out of the USD 250 million earmarked for Dalit oriented schemes to unrelated schemes (12).

One another important aspect of the sub-plan is to provide funds for rehabilitation of Dalits subjected to oppressive caste-dictated jobs like manual scavenging. But the brazen lack of will from the government was obvious in July 2021 when Ramdas Athawale, the Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment, when questioned, declared there were no death related to manual scavenging in the last five years while his own answer in February 2021 revealed that there were 340 deaths registered officially (13).

On the face of these failures, it is imperative that a suitable example of good implementation is identified and modelled for, all over the nation. Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have shone in these respects. To ensure, proper allocation of funds to these schemes and accountability in spending Karnataka legislated a separate law, in 2013(14). The state has not only enacted the law but also has used information technology efficiently to make the reports and data related to the plan publicly available, making it easier for the activists to engage in real time. The evidence for the better result is proven by the sharp increase in allocation after the legislation. Through this push, the state has been able to give organisational structure dealing with planning, monitoring and redressal reaching even up to the panchayat (village block) level (15). Although there is still much to be desired even in these three above mentioned states, giving legislative binding to the solution should be a start in the right direction.

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in his Annihilation of Caste drew a link between caste and unemployment: “Without such freedom to adjust himself to changing circumstances, it would be impossible for him to gain his livelihood. (..) By not permitting readjustment of occupations, caste becomes a direct cause of much of the unemployment we see in the country.”

Eight decades after these words, we witness the link between caste and lack of quality employment that disproportionately affects Dalits. At this juncture, it is our responsibility, as collectives of people for social justice, to get the state to agree on the principle of proportionality with legislative assurance and proper implementation.

Mathur Sathya has a Masters in Public Policy from the National Law School of India, Bangalore and is a passionate policy scholar researching issues related to land and caste.

1Alpa Shah & Jens Lerche, 2020, “The five truths about the migrant workers’ crisis”, https://www.hindustantimes.com/analysis/the-five-truths-about-the-migrant-workers-crisis-opinion/story-awTQUm2gnJx72UWbdPa5OM.html

2ibid

3Mrudula Chari, 2015, “Drought delivers an unequal blow: Dalits are the worst hit”, https://scroll.in/article/718295/drought-delivers-an-unequal-blow-dalits-are-the-worst-hit

4Mahima Jain, 2019, “Landless Dalits, Hit Hardest By Disasters, Are Last To Get Relief” https://www.indiaspend.com/landless-dalits-hit-hardest-by-disasters-are-last-to-get-relief/

5Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment. (2011). Fifteenth Report. New Delhi: Ministry of Social Justice.

6 Krishnan, P. S. (2018). Theme Paper on Dalits. In Social Exclusion and Justice in India (pp. 1–75). Delhi: Routledge.

7 Khan, J. A., Vishal, A. K., Sharma, R., & Babu, U. (2011). Implementation of the Scheduled Caste Sub Plan

8Reference Vimala Ramachandran, S. G. (2011). Tracking Funds for India’s Most Deprived: The Story of the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights’ “Campaign 789”. Delhi: International Budget Partnership.

9Ibid

10CAG. (2013). Report on General and Social Sector, Government of Tamil Nadu. New Delhi: Comptroller and Auditor General of India.

11Sharat S. Srivatsa, “Attempt to divert SC/ST welfare funds as ‘deemed expenditure’ continues” https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/attempt-to-divert-scst-welfare-funds-as-deemed-expenditure-continues/article37742352.ece

12“Govt diverted funds for Scheduled Castes: NGO”, Read more at: https://www.deccanherald.com/content/262915/govt-diverted-funds-scheduled-castes.html

13https://www.thequint.com/news/india/no-deaths-due-to-manual-scavenging-tragic-truth-buried-in-technicalities

14 Prabhu, N. (2013, December 5). Karnataka Assembly passes Scheduled Castes Sub-Plan and Tribal Sub-Plan Bill. Hindu

15https://www.scsptsp.kar.nic.in/About.html

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