A mini revolution in the making?

In a first-of-its-kind move, Andhra Pradesh makes a law to bridge the gap in socio-economic development of the SCs and STs from the rest

prasanna

Prasanna Mohanty | January 30, 2013



On June 27, 2005, prime minister Manmohan Singh made a seemingly run-of-the-mill observation while addressing the chief ministers at the national development council (NDC) meeting. He said: “If the benefits of growth have to reach all sections of our diverse society, there is a need to equip them with the necessary skills and resources to become active participants in growth processes. This is the only way of achieving our dream of an inclusive, prosperous society. In the mid-1970s, the Special Component Plan and the Tribal Sub-Plan were initiated. Tribal Sub- Plans and Special Component Plans (renamed as Scheduled Castes Sub-Plan in 2006) should be an integral part of Annual Plans as well as Five Year Plans, making provisions therein non-divertible and non-lapsable, with the clear objective of bridging the gap in socio-economic development of the SCs and STs within a period of 10 years.”

There was nothing new or innovative about the sentiment or the formulation. All he said had been said and sought to be implemented earlier too, but it never got translated into reality. That is because the union and state governments not only didn’t provide adequate funds for the SC and ST sub-plans, a substantial part of the funds allotted were either not utilized or diverted for other purposes, but more of that later.

Seven and a half years later, Andhra Pradesh has made a fresh and first-of-its-kind of attempt to get around the problem by giving a statutory status to these SC and ST sub-plans when the state assembly passed Andhra Pradesh Scheduled Castes Sub-Plan and Tribal Sub-Plan (Planning, Allocation and Utilisation of Financial Resources) Bill 2012 on the night of December 12 (which was a Sunday). The idea is not only to bridge the gap in economic, educational and other developmental indices between the SC/ST and general category population, but also to ensure equality among the various groups within the SCs and STs.

In fact, chief minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy, who piloted the bill, acknowledges and strictly goes by the prime minister’s observation. Therefore, the law proposes to allocate funds in proportion to the population of the SCs and STs – as was first mandated in the ST and SC sub-plans formulated way back in 1974 and 1979, respectively, by the planning commission, but rolled out much later. It also provides that the law will automatically cease to exist at the end of 10 years. As for non-divertible and non-lapsable nature of the fund allotted to the sub-plans, the law is silent and it is understood that the state government will issue an executive order to ensure that. There are several good and bad provisions in the legislation. Let us look at the good ones first.

Realising that implementation is the problem, the law seeks to provide an institutional mechanism at various levels in the administrative set-up. At the top is the State Council for Development of SCs and STs, which is headed by the chief minister himself. This will advise the state on policies, suggest measures for planning and implementation of schemes by the departments and approve the annual plans. Two nodal agencies will be instituted to take the task forward, which will be headed by the ministers for social welfare for the SC sub-plan and tribal welfare for ST sub-plan. The two ministries will act as the two nodal departments, with their administrative and technical support units, to assist the nodal agencies.

The two nodal agencies will hold the key. They will evaluate and appraise the proposals forwarded by various departments to prepare the sub-plans, recommend allocation, review their implementation, identify and remove impediments, maintain relevant data to ensure transparency and facilitate social auditing once a year.

There will be district monitoring committees for implementing the sub-plans and district planning committees to review the implementation.
Individual departments will make tentative plan outlay for the sub-plans, which will have only such schemes that will secure “direct and quantifiable benefits” and have the potential to “bridge the gaps” in development, after “estimating the gaps” through a consultative process and forward its plan to the nodal department, which will then reach the nodal agencies for the preparation and approval of the sub-plans.

While allotting resources for the sub-plans, the nodal agencies will follow two basic norms – (a) 100 percent of scheme cost will be marked against the sub-plan if it exclusively benefits SC and ST households or habitations and (b) for general schemes and “non-divisible” infrastructure works, a portion in proportion to or attributable to the SC and ST beneficiaries will be marked against the sub-plans.

To ensure transparency, all the details will be posted in the departmental websites and an annual report on the “outcome” of the sub-plans will be tabled in the assembly. There will also be incentives and disincentives and disciplinary actions against erring officials but these will be notified under the rules to be framed.

The bad provisions abound too.

First the sunset clause mentioned earlier. Clause 1 (4) says the law shall cease to exist “after the expiry of ten years from the date of commencement” as if “this Act had been repealed by a State Act”. What if the goals have not been achieved? If we have failed in spite of instituting the sub-plans in the 70s, what guarantees Andhra Pradesh will succeed in 10 years?

Secondly, the issue of marking funds in proportion to the population of SCs and STs and its non-lapsable and non-divertible nature has been left at the mercy of subsequent executive orders. Since these are the key issues, what is the purpose of the law?

Thirdly, how will the institutional mechanism (by way of state council, nodal agencies and departments etc) help if the other key issue, the planning, has to be done in the same old ways? PS Krishnan, retired IAS officer who played a key role in formulating the Special Component Plan (which was later renamed as SC sub-plan) in the 1970s, says the key is in making an “independent plan” for the SCs and STs. There should be a separate “planning authority” for the purpose.

Krishnan points to another (fourth) flaw. Clause 11(d) partly defeats the purpose of the law by saying, “In respect of non-divisible infrastructure works a portion of the scheme cost as may be determined by the Government shall be deemed to have been attributed for Scheduled Castes Sub-Plan and Tribal Sub-Plan respectively.”

It is by marking a part of the general infrastructure projects to the sub-plans that much of the diversion takes place. Andhra Pradesh government has, for example, diverted funds from the sub-plans for beautifying Hyderabad’s Hussain Sagar lake on the plea that it benefits the SCs and STs too. Data circulated by Hyderabad’s Centre for Dalit Studies show that Rs 16,912 crore was diverted from the SC sub-plan between 1992-93 and 2010-11 and Rs 4,302 crore diverted from the ST sub-plan.

Andhra Pradesh, by no stretch of imagination, is the worst culprit. In fact, planning commission old hands vouch that it is one of the better states and give anecdotal examples to substantiate it. The Delhi government, for example, admitted to diverting Rs 744 crore meant for the SC sub-plan for the Commonwealth Games between 2006-7 and 2010-11. Clause 11(d) only legitimizes such diversion.

The union government is equally guilty. In fact, a planning commission task force, headed by its member Narendra Jadhav, had made scathing remarks about the way the union government had gone about implementing the sub-plans. It said,

“Implementation of the above guidelines has remained inadequate. Hardly any Ministry is showing its SCSP/TSP outlays under a separate Budget Heads. Some Ministries are showing a notional earmarking, but the criterion followed in doing so is not uniform and transparent. Also, in the absence of this outlay being shown under a separate minor head (789 or 796, as the case may be), such notional earmarking does not have much significance, nor is its non-divertibility ensured. In the absence of separate earmarking and budgeting of funds under SCSP/TSP by Central Ministries/Departments, it is not possible, as of now, to quantify the total amount allocated and/or spent by the Central Government under SCSP/TSP. The SCSP and TSP strategies thus remain substantially un-implemented at the level of the Central Ministries/Departments mainly due to lack of an effective mechanism in this behalf.”

To that extent, Andhra Pradesh government has done well to take a good first step to stymie the rot.

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