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Unspent money for Dalits/tribals, $42.6 bn 8 times agri budget (Special to IANS)

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Unspent money for Dalits/tribals, $42.6 bn 8 times agri budget (Special to IANS)



It was raining heavily last monsoon when Heerabai's youngest child, Seshkumari, 4, collapsed with a fever. The family could only watch helplessly as her temperature soared and she turned delirious late night.



The nearest primary health centre for Pachkol, Heerabai's village in Chhindwara district in south-west Madhya Pradesh, is 25 km away. And every monsoon, the swollen Bhagbhel river floods the road linking the village to the health centre. If you fall sick, said residents, you have very little hope of finding any medical help.



"My daughter couldn't even recognise us as the fever got worse at two in the morning," recalled Heerabai, 30, lean and noticeably weak. That morning, she lost her daughter.



Heerabai and her three surviving children belong to Bhariya community, classified as a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG). Her tragedy is the consequence of a 44 per cent shortfall in the healthcare infrastructure in the tribal areas of Madhya Pradesh. This is despite the fact that, last year, the state government had left in hand Rs 4,000 crore allocated for tribal welfare.



IndiaSpend's investigations, through a series of right-to-information (RTI) requests, reveal that over the last 35 years, Rs 2.8 lakh crore ($42.6 billion) set aside to improve the lives of scheduled castes (SCs) and scheduled tribes (STs) by way of measures like mid-day meals, scholarships and crop insurance was simply not spent.

NITI Aayog, which monitors these funds, verified the figures calculated by IndiaSpend. However, CEO Amitabh Kant distanced the organisation from the issue of inadequate fund utilisation. "We are just (the) monitoring agency for the funds and it's the states and ministries that have to spend more. But we will step up the monitoring and the present government is working on it," he told IndiaSpend.



The unspent amount -- either lapsed or given back to the Centre -- is eight times larger than India's agriculture budget, enough to fund India's rural road construction projects for the next 15 years, and larger than the gross domestic product of Serbia, Nepal or Jordan. If India were to distribute the Rs 2.8 lakh crore among all of India's 250 million STs and SCs, each would get Rs 11,289.



The unspent Rs 2.8 lakh crore falls under two funds: Tribal Sub Plan (TSP), started in 1974-75, and Scheduled Caste Sub Plan (SCSP), begun in 1979-80, to channelise funds from general budgets to STs and SCs.



As per guidelines, a part of the budget -- proportionate to at least the population of SCs and STs -- at both central and state levels is to be set aside for these marginalised sections. The current population of SCs and STs in India is 16.6 per cent and 8.6 per cent. So, 16.6 per cent and 8.6 per cent of the Union budget should be allocated to SCSP and TSP, respectively. The same applies to the states too.





Not just that, each ministry, whether state or central, has to keep aside the same percentage of their total funds for SCSP and TSP to carry out individual, family or habitat development works and welfare schemes for SCs and STs.

For instance, the Human Resource Development Ministry has to set apart funds under the two strategies for building schools, providing nutritious meals and scholarships and other similar measures for SCs and STs. Similarly, the Agriculture Ministry has to set aside funds for providing subsidised seeds and fertilisers and crop insurance to SC and ST farmers.



The funds are "non-lapsable" as per the guidelines issued in 2006 and 2014 by the erstwhile Planning Commission, now NITI Aayog. But low spending has crippled the effort. Records show that no matter which party is in power, SCs and STs rarely benefit from these funds.



While Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab top the list for SCSP funds remaining unspent for 2005-14, Jharkhand, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh lead in TSP.

Also, the percentage of unspent amount is alarmingly high. For instance, it is as high as 61 per cent or Rs 4,643 crore for Telangana in 2014-15. The real unspent amount will be even higher, because data on expenditure are not available for many years with the various governments.



P.S. Krishnan, a bespectacled 83-year-old retired IAS officer and former Secretary to the Government of India, was the man behind the introduction of SCSP in 1980. He spoke animatedly about how former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi cut through red-tape by issuing a letter to roll out the strategy.



Krishnan's face darkened as he talked of its tardy implementation. "Politicians and bureaucrats have always remained apathetic to the most backward classes -- dalits and adivasis," he said.



In the letter announcing SCSP in 1980, Indira Gandhi wrote: "While they constitute 15 per cent of the total population of the country, their proportion is much larger in the poverty groups of the country, most of the SCs are below the poverty line."



Thirty-six years on, the situation has not changed much.



Adivasis and dalits still matter theIndo-Asian News Service

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