New Delhi: The Congress party led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has drawn up a draft law to earmark plan outlays for scheduled caste-specific schemes, in support of its inclusiveness agenda ahead of elections this year and the next.
In the first ever attempt at a Bill of this kind, the ministry of social justice and empowerment has prepared the first draft of the Scheduled Castes Sub Plan (SCSP) Bill, 2013 which in addition to earmarking outlays also provides for strengthening the implementation machinery and creating national and state-level scheduled caste development councils.
The Bill mandates the Planning Commission and planning departments in states to earmark and notify, every year, a portion of its total plan outlay in proportion to the scheduled caste population. The draft Bill, dated 6 June, has already been published on the ministry’s website, which is also the central nodal agency for the Bill.
“The ministry is currently seeking suggestions on the Bill, holding meetings with interministerial committees and with the states. After we have completed the process, the Bill would be further fine tuned and sent to the Union cabinet to get a final approval,” a senior official of the ministry said on condition of anonymity.
While the Union Budget already has provisions to allot funds toward this end, the need was felt to make it mandatory through a Bill.
“We observed that the provisions were not being implemented properly and earmarking of funds was more of a paper exercise, and so the need of a separate Bill,” said the official cited above. “Some ministries were even allocating money under the SCSP to general category schemes.”
The new Bill looks at plugging these gaps by not allowing fund allocations to general schemes that are accessible to everyone including the scheduled castes. It also proposes to set up an exclusive SCSP wing in the finance ministry or departments of central/state governments.
The proposed development councils will suggest measures for proper planning and implementation of the schemes and approving the annual SCSP proposal. While the national council will have the Prime Minister as one of its members, the councils would have representation of elected members of Parliament and state legislatures.
To ensure greater scrutiny in the implementation of scheduled-caste specific schemes, the Bill provides for disciplinary action “for proven negligence and lack of due diligence” while following the provisions of the Bill.
While experts welcomed the move, they said the Bill can be more effective.
“The Bill is in the right direction and takes into account a lot of things. However, several ministries and departments have only paper schemes and so the national and state-level councils should have powers to reallocate and reappropriate funds if they feel the need to,” said Paul Divakar, national convenor of the National Coalition for Special Component Plan for Scheduled Castes and Tribal Sub Plan (SCP and TSP).
Divakar, however, added that the penalty for wilful negligence should be prosecution under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act instead of leaving it to the state governments.
“This is, however, the first massive step in recognizing the rights of the scheduled castes to plan for themselves and for accessing resources,” he said, while adding that similar legislation should be implemented for scheduled tribes as well.