Meira Kumar asks Chidambaram, Ahluwalia to ensure funds for SCs

By Rajeev Ranjan Roy, IANS,

New Delhi : Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Meira Kumar has asked Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia to ensure proper allocation of funds for Scheduled Castes (SCs) by all ministries and government departments.

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In a letter to Chidambaram and Ahluwalia, Kumar, an influential minister in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government, has sought measures to ensure that from 2009-10, central ministries and departments set aside 15 percent of total funds for SCs, as per norms.

What has upset Kumar, the daughter of India’s known Dalit icon late Jagjivan Ram, is the nonchalance of ministries and departments despite SCs being one of India’s largest disadvantaged social group, accounting for 16.2 percent of the country’s billion-plus population as per the 2001 census.

In view of their social, educational and economic backward for decades, India’s central government allocates special funds to all ministries and departments annually to be spent on the development of SCs.

In the letter, a copy of which is with IANS, Kumar regretted that “none of ministries and departments, for which information is available with us, has started showing the SCSP (schedule caste sub-plan) allocation.”

The SCSP, earlier known as SC plan, was introduced in 1979 to achieve overall development of SCs by raising them above the poverty line.

“Non-earmarking of adequate funds under SCSP by majority of ministries and departments shows laxity in implementing an important mission,” said Mrityunjay Nayak, member, National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC).

“The plan panel must evolve a mechanism to get SCSP funds set aside at the very outset of budgetary allocation, instead of leaving it to the discretion of ministries and departments,” Nayak told IANS.

Since the finance ministry is the nodal ministry for the country’s central budget, Kumar has sought from Chidambaram “urgent necessary instructions” to all ministries and departments to ensure that “at least from 2009-10” they show an appropriate portion (15 percent) of the plan budget under the SCSP head.

Funds under SCSP are supposed to be spent on providing basic minimum services to SCs like primary education, health, drinking water, nutrition, rural housing, electrification and link roads.

Since the Planning Commission is to play an equally key role in executing the SCSP, Kumar in her letter has also drawn Ahluwalia’s attention to how the norms are being flouted by the ministries and departments.

The plan had revised the guidelines for SCSP funds utilisation and allocation in December 2006 to make the scheme more effective and result oriented at the grassroots level.

According to the Planning Commission, India’s official policy maker, only six ministries in 2005-06, and 12 in 2006-07 earmarked funds under the SCSP.

They included the ministries of human resource development, science and technology, health and family welfare, rural development, labour and employment, and small, micro and medium enterprises.

The National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) report 2004-05 says 36.8 percent SCs in rural areas and 39.9 percent in urban areas are below the poverty line.

The poverty line is currently pegged at a monthly per capita expenditure of Rs.327.56 in rural areas, and Rs.454.11 in urban areas.