Asha Kowtal interviewed Paul Divakar, Convenor of the National Coalition on SCP/TSP Legislation (Special Component Plan for the Scheduled Castes and the Tribal Sub-Plan for the Scheduled Tribes) about the SCP/TSP Bill, a few weeks ago. The text of the interview is featured below the video.
Asha Kowtal: Jai Bhim Paul. Thank you for your time for this interview for Round Table India. We have a few questions for you regarding the SCP/TSP Legislation in India.
Q. The SCP/TSP has been around in India for quite many years. Could you please explain about the need now for this special 'legislation'?
Paul Divakar: The policy has been made for the tribals since 1974-75 and for Scheduled Castes since 1979-80, which means that for almost 34 years for Dalits and for about 39 years for tribals, it has been already formulated. This policy had been formulated - but even though it is very clearly specified as to how it needs to be implemented and designed – but somehow it has not found its way to ensuring that the broader society participated in the planning and the schemes are transparent and accountable. Especially when the marginalized communities do not have participation in the planning and implementation and in holding those implementing accountable, then it becomes very difficult for those schemes to be grounded. So, that is what has happened – allocations have not been made, designs of the schemes have not been properly done as per the needs and therefore money has disappeared.
Q. Could you please highlight the main key aspects/dimensions of the proposed bill?
A. The bill primarily emphasizes on the community's right to plan. It is not just the question of money. It is not the question of utilization of money for some schemes. It primarily encourages – scheduled castes, tribals, - to say that they have a right to planning. It also says that in the participation of the planning – that clearly the state or central government has certain functions. That is, setting aside the money, designing schemes that address the needs of individuals, families, or locations, which are called 'bastis' – not panchayats – the area where the scheduled castes or tribals are living.
Q. This you are talking about central legislation – the draft bill. We have news that Andhra Pradesh has put legislation in place. Could you highlight the strengths, weaknesses and the implications as you see it in Andhra?
A. This is historic. What Andhra Pradesh has got is a historic legislation. And they have brought it in Jan. 2013. What it says is that first the Government should form a state council. Then all the departments, especially the planning dept. and finance dept. need to inform the council 6 months before the commencement of the (budgetary) year. Which means it is not just an ad hoc (measure), but 6 months before the financial year begins they have to indicate the quantum of funds available for the dept of SCs and the dept. of STs: what is the amount available with which they can plan. And then this ministry directs it to different ministries like Women and Child Development, highways, irrigation, telecommunication etc.
So you are looking at this amount, which is available for you to spend, very clearly for development of SCs and STs. Then they have to come up with the schemes (envisaging) how it will be implemented. The Bill also says that it can implement (plans) for individuals, families or villages. Then there is one lacuna that we have to recognize which the Andhra Pradesh bill has. First, it has a provision saying that if the scheduled castes also benefit from a general scheme – same proportion (of the plan/scheme funds equivalent to the share of the SC/STs in the population) maybe deducted from the SCP/ TSP. This is a major weakness – I think and we are asking the Government to reconsider. Otherwise it (the new bill) would be no way different from the typical (traditional) way in which the departments have been planning for everybody. It has become an accounting exercise to say, for example, that 24 % is there in Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (for SCs and STs) and you treat it as SCP without looking at how SCs and STs are benefiting.
The second lacuna that the AP bill has is: for infrastructure projects, the Government can decide through a specific government order saying that a specific amount from the overall costs will be set aside as infrastructure costs which will be regarded as spent and utilized by SCs and STs. We are also hotly contesting this, because if you have general infrastructure like airports, roads, Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here in Delhi, - all these you know have been benefited from diversions of funds meant for the scheduled castes. So these two lacunae I think are there. But then the overall right to plan, right of community to be part of the planning exercise have been given through this legislation.
Q. Well, this whole question of equity and particularly when we know for a fact that Dalit and Adivasi women have the lowest Human development indicators, do you see that as a gap in the current bill? As a challenge to get the gender aspect into the crux and core of this legislation?
A. The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has come up with their Bill and the National Coalition on SCP/TSP Legislation – you may have heard it is a coalition of over 350 networks, organizations, movements - has come together to look at the Bill. We have given these four major demands to be brought into the bill. First is that in all this (the bill) there is no mention of specific processes that ensure involvement of women.
It has to be Adivasi and Dalit women and not just participation, but the schemes have to be designed in such a way that their specific needs should be considered as a primary target. And the fourth aspect is that apart from schemes and participation, the quantum of amount that you allocate for Dalit-Adivasi women also needs to be considered. So participation, then the schemes and the quantum of amount. This is what we have felt are the lacunae (that need to be addressed) and we need to ensure that it comes into the legislation.
Q. Could you comment on the monitoring and auditing mechanisms and how that will be addressed at the state and national level?
A. In the Andhra bill also this is one of the concerns that we have raised, that the accountability of the duty bearers and officials has not been sufficiently addressed. You know that in a broad rights based framework, especially where the most vulnerable are concerned, you need to make sure that their rights and entitlements are realized. That will only be possible if the accountability, in terms of time (is ensured).
When they ensure that planning and implementation, especially, will be done by the officials and in case they default or deviate - what are the mechanisms available that an ordinary citizen can use to demand responsibility for the schemes? I think that has not been addressed. You may have heard that a Grievance redressal bill is coming up, so we are trying to see how some of the provisions can be taken up. Because, that is also a Bill that has been drafted and is waiting for clearance at the cabinet.
Q. We have media reports that this bill is likely to be introduced in the winter session of Parliament. We would like to hear about the plans of Dalit organisations and also the coalition on building pressure on the UPA Government to pass this bill.
A. The demand for this Bill has been there for the last two years (put forward) by several organizations individually and by the coalition in the past one and half years. What has been the practice of most Governments - they become hyperactive just before the time of elections. So we also felt that it is necessary to demand this at this critical time. As this is a time when people's voice has a greater weightage and we can also demand our due share. Though, the draft has been done – the Ministry of Tribal affairs still needs to give its comments. The Inter-ministerial committee's responses have to come to the draft that has been circulated by MSJE.
We are hoping that it will go to the cabinet by Dec. 1st,, and it should be intimidated to cabinet secretary that it is going to come. Because on December 5th the parliament is opening for its winter session and as many of us know this is the last working session before the election and the next budget session is going to be a very technical session where none of the Bills are allowed to be considered.
So this is our last chance for pushing the bill and for the Government also this is a last chance to say that if any party is really concerned about the overall development of the country and especially the SCs and STs which can trigger deeper development of the country, this is one act which is critical. Not just an Act in itself but it is a trigger Act which can stimulate the development and growth of this country.
Q. Have you planned any mass action programmes or public action programmes in this regard?
A. We have been doing it since Nov 15th, which is Birsa Munda Day; we have had several dharnas, presentations, public meetings, conferences and we have given applications to chief ministers / governors and sent them to the Prime Minister also. Right from Jammu to Tamil Nadu, Orissa, Bihar, Maharashtra and across the states. From Nov. 26th, Constitution day, 100 eminent persons are going to make an appeal. This will be given to the press. On Dec. 3rd all political parties will come together to express their commitment to pass this bill.
But we feel, a mass action is also necessary. So from Dec. 5th onwards, children by thousands will come to the streets on the first day, urban poor on second day, trade unions, SC/ST associations are coming on Dec. 7th to demand the SCP/TSP Bill. Several cultural groups of Dalits and Adivasis are coming with their demands, and on the 9th the students and youth are coming to say that we as citizens .... not of tomorrow ... but of today ... saying that we want this Bill and finally women, agricultural workers are coming and hopefully from 11th onwards if the bill is not passed, we may have to go on a hunger strike – (to express) the anguish of the community until the demands for rightful share of budgets are realized.
Q. Looks like you have a very busy action planned in the weeks ahead. I have one more question regarding landlessness and the communities that have been obstructed from gaining right over land. What are your thoughts on this and how will access to land and land rights be incorporated in the planning through SCP/TSP? Is that a possibility at all?
A. Definitely. I think one of the key demands is related to land, livelihood and land related assets building. Because that is where most of the Dalits and Adivasis are. On the other hand there is a sizable number of Dalits and Adivasis who are migrating to urban areas. Actually most of the Dalits and Adivasis (do migrate) – 50% of the time where they don't have access to land because agriculture is not possible – or most of the time depending on rains. They migrate to medium sized towns and cities and there they are involved in different types of unorganised work and we are asking the planning commission and government departments to not only focus on traditional areas – like whenever they think of Dalits, they only think of them as agricultural labour - but you will know that there are more higher educated youth amongst the SCs than there are among Brahmins. Very few schemes are being designed to see how their skills can be harnessed and how they can contribute to cutting edge growth of this country.
We don't want to be thought of as linked to agriculture alone and as petty vendors who sell thotakura, vegetables. We want them to think of us also as being part of micro-nano industries. In all the cities you know .. people look at us (as involved in) small crafts like leather stitching work alone. The emerging assertion of the Dalit youth ..who are a sizable number.. they are still connected to their families in a traditional way. So we are saying don't focus only on traditional sectors. But focus your effort on cutting edge sectors. And, of course, ensuring that displacement issues are also brought in, so that politically and technologically we are correct and that people – their lives are first addressed.
Q. My final question.. I am sure you will agree that there is no dearth of policies in this country of ours. With the implementation of this legislation, do you see, a beacon of hope for real economic justice for SCs and ST people of India?
A. Thank you Asha for bringing this major aspect. I feel I would rather come from the community's side. I don't expect anything from the state. Because if they have not done (much) for the past 60 years, there is no need for us to trust the state that they will do something for the Dalits now. No. As Babasaheb had said, and many Dalit leaders have said, we don't wait for any state or god to deliver us. What this Act is (will give us is the) right to plan, right to resources - we will hold them accountable. Government may not implement it.
This is one way for voicing our demands. Not just freedom from violence but we are saying that we as human beings are capable and we have shown that (we can contribute to) the economy ..but you have excluded us. So with this SCP/TSP we have a right to plan.... we have a right to see that they (the plans) are implemented. Therefore, the right to hold them accountable falls on us. So I don't see ... till now they have not implemented it.....so suddenly I don't see they will become very large-hearted and sweet and oozing love towards Dalits and Adivasis... But we have risen and shall continue to assert our rights. We will get our right to plan and we will not leave this to some of these officials.. We will plan, we will decide and we will audit how this legislation works.
Thank you and more power to you and to the Coalition.
Jai Bhim !
Asha Kowtal is General Secretary of the All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch (AIDMAM).