Ever since the struggle for statehood days, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) has always focused on the uplift of the downtrodden in the State. The policies implemented by the Telangana government, headed by TRS president and Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao, show that they have not wavered from the promises made to the downtrodden community.
The TRS had already created a plan, more than a decade ago, to bring in changes in the system to ensure social and economic welfare of the Dalits and tribal communities, in the yet-to-be-created Telangana.
It was KCR’s experience as an MLA from Siddipet and his service as a minister that strengthened his resolve further. His work for the Dalits at Ramunipatla village in his constituency provided him with an unforgettable experience. He believed that if the Dalit community had to come out of poverty, untouchability and discrimination must go. He made several efforts to empower the women of Ramunipatla.
KCR made the community an integral part of the State story. In 2003, over 300 Dalit intellectuals, authors, leaders and activists were felicitated in a conference hosted by the TRS. On the same day, KCR revealed his government’s agenda for Dalits. The conference was attended not only by Dalits from Telangana but also from Andhra and their opinions were sought.
The present scheme to award three acres of land to landless Dalits was first brought up in this conference. Among others, officials were asked to improve enrolment in Social and Tribal welfare schools and hostels.
One of the important welfare measures taken by the TRS – which was then in the Opposition in the undivided Andhra Pradesh — was the SC/ST Sub-plan, which was necessary for the optimum usage of funds allocated for the welfare and development of SC/ST communities.
Since 2004, the members of TRS were relentless in the Assembly and the Sub-plan Act took shape in March, 2012 following the 72-hour strike by people’s organisations and political parties. Resultantly, then Congress Chief Minister Kiran Reddy agreed to make an announcement in the Assembly. Kiran Reddy tried to postpone the announcement by claiming that the TRS MLAs were not allowing the session to continue. But the TRS leadership, especially Etela Rajender and Harish Rao, requested its leaders to be in attendance leaving little choice to Kiran Reddy.
The Sub-plan Act was approved in two days with special sessions. It was the first time in the history of India that an Assembly had dedicated two days for a special legislation for the downtrodden communities. Forty-two members spoke on those two days. The speech by Harish Rao stood out.
In 2014, when the TRS party stormed to power and KCR was sworn in as Chief Minister, the focus on Dalits gained further momentum. Within a month, a meeting took place to chart development plans for the Dalit community.
The Department of Social Welfare was rechristened as the Scheduled Castes Development Department, emphasising the responsibility of the state in working for a permanent solution to the backwardness of these communities. At that time, Kerala was the only other State that had a Scheduled Caste Development Department.
A week after this meeting, Collectors was directed to prepare for awarding of three acres of land to Dalits, the title to which was to be held by the woman in the house.
This was the first time that a Chief Minister took special interest in Dalit issues and sought to bring a comprehensive change as the first agenda after swearing in. The three-acre scheme was launched on August 15 and till date, over 13,000 acres of land has been distributed to landless Dalits.
Another key welfare scheme is ‘Kalyana Lakshmi’, which was first rolled out for the SC community and now is extended to STs, BCs and Muslims. In the past four years, 3,23,963 people have benefited. It started with Rs 50,000 being awarded to the bride, which has first increased to Rs 75,000 and then to Rs 1,00,000.
On Dr BR Ambedkar’s 125th birth anniversary on April 14, 2016, the government almost doubled the number of residential schools in the State. Telangana before separation had 134 residential schools for SC students and this has increased to 238 now. While ST residential schools have grown to 145 from 94 earlier, schools for BCs have gone to 162 from 19. There are 206 minority residential schools as against 6 earlier.
Likewise, the scholarship to SC/ST students for higher education overseas has been doubled to Rs 20 lakh and it has been extended to BCs and minorities. Over 300 SC students, 50 ST students, 349 members from minority communities and 101 BC students had availed it.
In 2017, the State changed the SC/ST Sub-plan Act to SC/ST Special Development Fund, as the Centre in its Budget changed Plan and non-Plan division to capital and revenue. This was to avoid technical hurdles to the Act. Other States are following suit and are making laws on similar lines.
In Telangana, welfare no more means temporary relief now. Rather, it is continuous uplift of the SCs, STs and BCs. The shepherd communities are being helped with rearing of sheep, fisherman community is being given fishing rights in lakes and tanks and toddy tappers are being insured. This is the most effective way of developing rural areas.
Of course, there are some difficulties in implementation but if these are effectively tackled, Telangana will pave the way for the rest of the country as a model State for development.
(The author is Chairman, Centre for Dalit Studies)