In 2014, Dalit votes contributed significantly to the BJP’s Lok Sabha triumph. However, in the past four years, the Narendra Modi-led Centre and several state BJP governments have been accused of being anti-Dalit, following cases of lynching and flogging of people from the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities. The BJP’s recent poll performance in three Hindi heartland states have also added to the party’s worries over losing its Dalit voter base.
It’s no surprise, then, that the party has been trying to woo the Dalit communities last year, it brought an ordinance to reverse a Supreme Court order on the SC/ ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act that barred the automatic arrests of violators. Now another attempt has been made by increasing budget allocations for the welfare of SC/ STs. The Allocation for Welfare of Scheduled Castes (AWSC) has seen a 35.6 per cent increase, from Rs 56,619 crore in 2018-19 to Rs 76,801 crore in 2019-20. The ST component is also up, from Rs 39,135 crore in 2018-19 toRs 50,086 crore in 2019-20.
However, the hike in budgetary allocations did not gain much traction among Dalit organisations. The Dalit Arthik Adhikar Andolan and National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) said in a statement that the increase in SC/ ST funds is irrelevant to the communities since the direct allocation is meagre and violates the guidelines on fund allocation. As per a NITI Aayog guideline in 2017, the share of funds for the development of SC/ STs should not be less than their proportionate population. An NCDHR study says there is a total deficit of Rs 2,75,772 crore in the allocation for SC welfare funds in the past five budgets. Also, despite a rise in violence against Dalits, the budget for Strengthening of Machinery for Enforcement of Protection of Civil Rights Act 1995 and Prevention of Atrocities Act 1989′ has only seen a small increase to Rs 490 crore, from Rs 404 crore in 2018.
Dalit organisations are also unhappy at the actual spend on their welfare. Social justice ministry data shows that about 52 per cent of AWSC funds Rs 29,912 crore was sanctioned till January 31. The utilisation under the ST component is slightly better at 72 per cent funds, or Rs 27,274 crore. Although there is an increase in the total allocation, funds for key schemes, such as the post-matric scholarship, have been reduced, says N. Paul Divakar, general secretary, NCDHR. Dalit rights activist Beena Pallical, who called the budget an election budget with big numbers and no depth, highlights a telling statistic on the government’s priorities: Rs 700 crore has been allocated for protection of cows while there is a paltry Rs 147 crore for protection of Dalit and Adivasi women through the implementation of PCR and Prevention of Atrocities Act.