TN govt denies diversion of Dalit funds to other schemes; what's the row about?
Why were crores of rupees earmarked for Dalits not utilised by the Tamil Nadu government? Why was the money set aside for Dalits being diverted to fund the state government’s new women’s rights grant scheme?
These are the key questions posed by Dalit activists and media publications in the past one week in the state. But is the state government really guilty of redirecting funds meant for Dalit welfare to generic schemes? The Federal explains what the controversy is all about.
What is the alleged fund diversion issue?
A recent Right to Information (RTI) application revealed that the Tamil Nadu government has failed to utilise ₹5,318 crore out of a total of ₹75,930 crore earmarked under the Scheduled Castes Sub-Plan (SCSP) for the past six financial years. Further, the RTI application filed by the Madurai-based activist, S Karthik, said that ₹2,900 crore remained unused during the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) regime from 2016-2021 and the present Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) government has left ₹2,418 crore unused in the last one year.
Subsequently, a complaint was filed alleging that the state government was planning to fund part of the ₹7,000 crore set aside for its women welfare scheme from funds allocated under the SCSP. This has led to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes on July 27 issuing a notice to the Tamil Nadu (TN) government asking them for an explaination.
What’s the central SCSP scheme?
The Special Component Plan (SCP), later renamed as the ‘Special Central Assistance (SCA) to Scheduled Caste Sub-Plan (SCSP)’, is a centrally-sponsored scheme for the development of Scheduled Castes (SC) living below the poverty line.
It aims to provide income-generating schemes, skill and infrastructure development to its beneficiaries. Since the schemes for SCs need to be drawn up based on the available local occupations and economic activities in states, the states and Union territories have been given full flexibility in utilising the funds they deem best, with the only condition that it should be in line with the guidelines.
‘SCA to SCSP’ is specifically meant to empower people from Dalit communities through development and infrastructure projects.
Which women’s welfare scheme is the funds being allegedly diverted to?
The women’s welfare scheme — Kalaignar Magalir Urimai Thogai Thittam — was part of the electoral promises made by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s (DMK) during the 2021 assembly elections. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin had announced that the scheme will be flagged off from September 15. Touted to be a ₹7,000 crore scheme, the TN government will provide ₹1,000 every month to women whose family income is less than ₹2.5 lakh a year, including widows.
Who filed the complaint?
E Anbuventhan, general secretary, Indian Republic Party in Tamil Nadu, who had filed the complaint, alleged that funds are being redirected from the ‘SCA to SCSP’ to the women’s rights grant scheme. This goes “against the guidelines, rules, and regulations of the Central Government of the Special Central Assistance to SC Sub-Plan”, he said in his complaint.
According to Dalit writer, Shalin Maria Lawrence, the department of Adi Dravidar and Tribal Welfare should be the one to hold the TN government accountable.
“They should’ve raised this issue, and not Dalits who are common folk. For the fulfilment of a poll promise, the government cannot just redirect funds from a Centre-approved scheme,” said Lawrence.
How the DMK-led TN government responded?
The DMK-led government clarified its stand in an official release. The government said that a sum of ₹1,540 crore from the centrally sponsored SCSP, which is part of the total allocation of ₹7,000 crore for the implementation of Kalaignar Magalir Urimai Thittam during 2023-24, will be spent only on SC beneficiaries. The state also pointed out that the allocation of funds to the SCSP, which was ₹13,680 crores in the Tamil Nadu 2020-21 budget, was increased to ₹17,076 crores in the 2023-24 financial year.
The release further explained that in the Union budget, of the ₹60,000 crore allocated for the implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, ₹10,500 crore was for SCs.
Similiarly, the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme (₹1,296 crore is meant for the SC from the total ₹6,634 crore), in the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana – Urban (PMAY-U), it is ₹4,162 crore from the total ₹25,103 crore, the Education for All scheme (₹7,535 crore in the total ₹37,453 crore), the National Health Mission (₹4,518 crore in the total ₹22,095 crore) and the Swachh Bharat Mission (Rural) (₹1,355 crore in the total ₹7,192 crore).
The state government “has been following this practice of allocation” while implementing various state schemes, such as the Moovalur Ramamirtham Ammaiyar Pudhumai Penn Scheme, the Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy Maternity Benefit Scheme, free distribution of dhotis and sarees scheme, among others, it said. This was echoed by Adi Dravida Welfare secretary G Laxmi Priya, who said that as per the methodology, under the overall allocation for a general scheme, the funds for SC/ST are allocated under a separate head.
This fund can be spent only on SC/ST. The Centre and other states are following this method of allocation for all schemes, said Laxmi Priya.
Not the first time in TN for alleged fund diversions?
This is not the first time the TN government is being accused of alleged fund diversions. In the past 10 years, the AIADMK and DMK governments have been accused of diverting SC/ST funds to implement other generic schemes, such as free colour television scheme, free bicycle scheme, free laptop scheme and the creation of Periyar Memorial Equality Villages.
Reacting to the allegation against the government, VA Ramesh Nathan, director of Social Awareness Society For Youths (SASY) justified the use of the funds from SCSP to benefit SC/ST beneficiaries in other schemes. It is within the purview of the scheme to do so, said Nathan.
Further, he added, “We can’t call this a fraud by just looking at the allocation; the expense report will give a clear understanding of whether they have misused the funds. And also, if they do such blatant misdirection of funds, the Centre will pull them up and hold them responsible.”
What’s the stand of Dalit activists on this allegation?
Anbuvendan felt the funds earmarked for SC, ST can be used in so many ways to better the lot of the SC and ST community. For example, he cited the example of Adi-Dravidar schools still lacking in basic infrastructure, and Dalit villages not having crematoria or roads.
Activists believed SCSP can be utilised well to give grants to Dalit scholars, to lease agricultural lands, to initiate cooperate farming, to start businesses, pay salaries for 2,500 Dalit panchayat presidents, and to develop Adi Dravida schools.
Lawrence felt it was a matter of sheer injustice towards Dalits. “This is not even a rebuttal. This is just injustice to Dalits. This is a scheme dedicated for the welfare of the Dalits. So. the state government cannot use these funds to fulfil a poll promise,” stressed Lawrence.
The SCP was envisaged to help poor SC families through composite income generation, welfare and developmental schemes for overall development and to bridge the gap in the socio-economic condition of SCs.
“There are lakhs of applications sent to the Adi Dravidar department by Dalit youngsters seeking employment opportunities or with start-up ideas, but the government has not been proactive in their response. Dalits have been facing discrimination over several generations. These schemes are aimed to give them an equal level-playing field. What’s worse is they don’t utilise funds that are allocated. Our leader Anna fought for the upliftment of Dalits and today the Dravidian leaders are failing the state,” said E Anbuventhan.
S Karthik explained to The Federal that a reply to his RTI revealed that over 640 villages across 20 districts in Tamil Nadu still practise untouchability, as per data from 2014 to 2018. Data published by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in 2022 show that crimes against SCs increased from 1,144 cases in 2019 to 1,274 cases in 2020 and 1,377 in 2021.
What are the questions the state government needs to respond to?
1. While the living condition of several Dalits is still quite poor, shouldn’t the funds set aside for Dalits be used for providing roads, housing, scholarships, hostels, electricity, water supply, and cremation grounds for those communities. Why should they be left unused at the end of the financial year?
2. It is mentioned in the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) 2016 report that SCSP funds should be non-divertible. So, why are funds from a special scheme being diverted to a generic scheme?
3. If the funds are being solely directed to SC/ST Women under the women welfare scheme, how come community certificates were not collected from the women during the registration process? Does the government have adequate data regarding the SC beneficiaries among the women who are eligible to benefit from this scheme?
Meanwhile, C Lakshmanan, former Madras Institute of Development Studies professor said that women never demanded ₹1,000 to be distributed to them every month.
“They have been rallying for closing the TASMACs and to change the provisions of NREGA scheme from 100 to 150 days. These unsolicited freebies are meant to depoliticise people,” he pointed out.
How can this issue be resolved?
A demand echoing from all quarters is that the government should be more transparent.
Can the government provide a comprehensive report detailing the expenditure of SCSP and other funds over the past decade? Several Dalit rights activists have proposed that Tamil Nadu replicate the Dalit Bandhu scheme from Telangana. Under this scheme, every Dalit family willing to start a business gets ₹10 lakhs as a flexible grant.
In the last budget session, the state government had said new legislation would be introduced for the proper implementation of SC-ST sub-plans. Sources close to the department confirmed to The Federal that they are working on a draft of the legislation.
“A special section will be created in the finance department to monitor SCSP spending,” said the official.
Nathan, who has worked closely with the state in the formulation of the legislation told The Federal that once a legislation is introduced in TN like it was in Telangana, this issue will not come up as it will immediately change the approach to the implementation.
He said, “First, a list of schemes need to be drafted after consulting with the communities, local leaders, NGOs and then a report must be submitted to the nodal agencies. The report will then be submitted to the finance department which is then tabled at the Assembly.”
“So, just like Telangana, the state will submit a detailed plan of schemes targeted for the welfare of SC/STs at the beginning of the Budget session. This will ensure transparency. There will also be provisions to ensure officials who are not facilitating the implementation of these schemes be penalised,” he added.