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Sitharaman's budget reeks of old Hindu tradition of 'daan' by the rich to the poor

By MK Shaji*
In her budget speech 2020-21, Finance Minister (FM) Nirmala Sitharaman states that the Budget presented by her aims to address the aspirations of every member of Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs), along with those of “today’s youth” and “every woman”.
FM classifies different schemes and programmes in the Budget under three distinct themes: (i) “Aspirational India”, (2) “Economic Development” and (3) “Caring India”; the three being compared to flowers in a bouquet (of programmes) for ease of living of all the people of India.

Aspirational India?

Under the theme “Aspirational India”, FM covers programmes related to agriculture, irrigation and rural development; wellness (i.e. health-related), water and sanitation; and education and skills. But there is no programme under these heads which will specifically benefit SCs and STs. FM’s speech mentions that she has provided an outlay of Rs 85,000 crore for the welfare of SCs and Other Backward Classes (OBCs).
Thus, the outlay for welfare of SCs is Rs 83,256.62 crore, as can be seen from the Statement 10A of the Expenditure Profile volume. FM’s claim that this provision Rs 83,256.62 crore is all meant for SC welfare is a falsity, because the programmes shown in Statement 10A titled as “Allocation for Welfare of Scheduled Castes” are mostly programmes which hardly benefit or at the most only nominally benefit the people of SCs.
For example, the Rs 22,212.43 crore shown in Statement 10A as outlay for the welfare of SCs under the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers’ welfare will not go for the welfare of SCs, as the SCs are mostly a non-cultivating class. Only 17.7 percent of SC households in India have any agricultural land as per National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) data, and only 0.6% of SC households have agricultural land of more than 4 hectares (ha), and SC households having 2.01 to 4 ha is only 2.2%.
Further, Rs 22,212.43 crore shown as outlay for SC welfare under the agriculture department constitute 16.52% of the total budgetary outlay of Rs 1,34,399.77 crore of that department. Clearly, FM resorts to statistical jugglery of mechanically showing about 16.6% (the proportion of SCs in the total population of India) of the total outlay of the department as the outlay for welfare of SCs.
The figures shown under different other ministries/departments, both in charge of programmes covered under FM’s ‘Aspirational India’ theme and also other ministries/departments, as outlays for SC welfare are likewise mere mechanical and statistical jugglery without significant benefits actually going to the SCs.
The same is true in respect of the figures of outlays shown for the welfare of STs in Statement 10B of Expenditure Profile volume. Clearly the government shows no real purposeful and serious thinking to effectively include SCs and STs in the Aspirational India schemes and programmes by following the original principles of Special Component Plan for SCs (SCP) and Tribal sub-Plan (Ts).

Economic development?

FM in her speech lays great emphasis on encouraging entrepreneurship among the youth. In a language of eulogy, she states: “We recognize the knowledge, skills and risk-taking capabilities of our youth. He is no longer the job seeker. He is creator of jobs. Now we wish to create more opportunities and remove road-blocks from his path.”
The Self-employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers has not been provided any increase in outlay in this budget
The present regime from the beginning (2014) has been placing great emphasis on promotion of entrepreneurship among SCs. It had set up a Venture Capital Fund for SCs for which an outlay of Rs 200 crore was provided in FY 2014-15. In FY 2019-20, Venture Capital Fund for OBCs has also been added to this scheme, yet the outlay for the scheme was reduced further to Rs 110 crore, and in this year’s budget the outlay is only Rs 125 crore. Similarly, only Rs 1 crore has been provided for the “Credit Guarantee Fund for SCs” in this year’s budget.
FM in her speech claims that the government is determined to end manual cleaning of sewer systems and septic tanks, and for this purpose suitable technologies have been identified by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, which is working with urban local bodies for the adoption of these technologies.
But what about the rehabilitation of manual scavengers presently engaged in such unclean and demeaning occupations, large numbers of whom suffocate to death every year in the toxic drains and manholes all over India? The Self-employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers has not been provided any increase in outlay in this budget.
The government needs to introduce a concrete scheme for rehabilitation of all manual scavengers and the younger generation of manual-scavenging communities in dignified occupations, especially utilizing the “huge employment opportunities” that the FM envisages for India’s youth in “construction, operation and management of infrastructure” under the National Infrastructure Pipeline project

Condescending charity? 

FM in her speech says that economic development for all (Sabka Vikas) would entail reforms across swathes of the economy, yielding more space for the private sector aimed at higher productivity and greater efficiency. The thrust of the economic development project obviously is near-total privatization and largesse of tax cuts for the corporates and businesses in the hope of cajoling them to invest.
In this abundant care for the rich and the wealthy, what is provided for the development SCs and STs is only the usual uninspiring fare contained in the routine schemes and programmes for them under the Ministries of Social Justice and Empowerment and Tribal Welfare and there is no or no significant increase in the outlays for such schemes and programmes in this year’s Budget Estimates (BE) compared to the last year’s BE or Revised Estimates (RE).
For some of the schemes like the National Fellowship for SCs the outlays have been reduced. The outlay for top class education for SCs remains the same, Rs 20 crore, this year as the last year. The outlay for boys' and girls' hostels for SCs has been reduced from Rs 107.36 crore in last year’s budget to a mere Rs 30 crores in this year.
In this background, it is revealing that FM classifies the entire programmes for SCs and STs, and for OBCs, and the claimed outlay for these programmes of Rs 85000 crore under the theme “Caring India”. 
In the absence of any realistic programmes for the empowerment of SCs and STs envisaged in the budget, there seems to be not much care for these classes and the formulation of the “Caring India” theme therefore reeks of the old Hindu dharma tradition of “daan” or condescending-type charity or alms-giving to the poor and dependents by the rich and the affluent.
---
*Social justice activist, has been a close associate with PS Krishnan, IAS (retd), an eminent social justice champion who recently passed away

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