‘If in any village, we were to enquire as to who is the most downtrodden in that society, there is no doubt that we would be pointed straight to the Dalit community, which has been subjected to discrimination and mistreated for millennia. Today’s society must pay special attention to that community and the government should remember to herald that responsibility,’ Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao said in the Assembly while speaking on the SC, ST Special Development Fund (Special Development Fund) Bill.
The SC, ST Special Development Fund (SCSTSDF) replaces the SC/ST Sub-Plan, with the Telangana Assembly unanimously approving it on March 24. In accordance with the recommendations of the Niti Ayog, Plan and non-Plan have been removed, while revenue and capital budgets have been integrated. Resultantly, the Sub-Plan Act, 2012 (SCSTSPA), which was passed by the erstwhile AP government, has ceased to exist.
To address the lacunae in the Sub-Plan Act, the Chief Minister has championed the creation of SCSTSDF Act through intricate discussions for a month.
The new law resolves two prominent issues. First, SCSTSPA was obsolete, especially since there was no assurance of the allotted funds being spent for the right purpose, resulting in uncertainty and insecurity in utilising the budget. This meant that even if the allocated funds were not spent, there was no opportunity to approach the Judiciary, which has now been provided in the new Act. So, the implementation, allocation and usage of funds become the responsibility of the government according to the new Act.
The Sub-Plan Act also was also valid only for a period of ten years. This evoked a sense of mistrust and fear that the Act may become obsolete in ten years. The TRS was in the opposition when the Sub-Plan Bill was being passed and it had vehemently opposed the inclusion of the 10-year time limit, but could not receive the approval of the House. The removal of the ten-year time limit in the new Act is a big plus.
While in opposition, the TRS had also demanded that the left over funds of one year be added into the funds of the following year, and this was not acceded to. The new Act includes this provision. The funds will now be strictly monitored and the left over funds will be carried forward to the next year and added to the allotted budget. Once every three months, funds allotment and spending details have to be submitted to the committee by the departments. This will enable transparency and bring the information into the public domain, which in turn will help the SC/ST community to check the implementation of SCSTSDF. So, the use of funds is bound to increase and neglect and carelessness of various departments will also stop.
Further, to oversee the implementation of this Act, a special Committee is being established. Nodal agencies that are a part of the government and a State Council headed by the Chief Minister will also have to check the spending impartially. The State Council needs to include members of the SC/ST community from the Legislative Assembly, the Legislative Council and Parliament. This will ensure that the design of programmes, budget allocation and release of funds are done in a democratic manner.
So far, especially in the areas of education, health and employment, the Dalits and Tribals have not progressed well. The present Act will be useful in building the self-respect of the downtrodden by concentrating on these areas. It is pertinent to note that this Act prescribes that the untouched sections of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes are to be identified and special care accorded to them to bring them to the forefront.
The Act also prescribes that the principle of equity must be applied, the inequalities among the downtrodden must be removed, and special schemes be created to facilitate equality. This, however, should not be understood as equal opportunities for all castes but to pay special attention to those who have not been able to avail the benefits previously and are socially, economically lagging behind. It also stipulates that only such schemes that secure direct and quantifiable benefits to the SC/ST be devised.
Without doubt, the Telangana government has worked with integrity towards making the SCSTSDF Act a reality. Allocation and usage of these funds, however, is of primary importance. The Telangana government has already introduced some schemes for the development of SC/STs. Especially, allotting 3 acres to each Dalit family, Kalyana Lakhsmi, economic assistance for foreign education and an increase in residential welfare hostels, are praiseworthy.
However, only 10,000 acres have been allotted so far. The reason cited for such low allocation was that there are not many who came forward to sell their land to the government. While it may be the case, MLAs, MPs and other authorities need to work whole-heartedly for the successful implementation of these schemes. Ideally, the government needs to establish a task force to implement these schemes.
Moreover, for these schemes and programmes to reach the public and benefit them, it is important for the people to awaken. The SC/ST community should educate themselves and understand all details of SCSTSDF Act to fully benefit from its schemes thereunder. This responsibility squarely lies on the shoulders of Dalit organisations, associations and scholars.