Imperfect sympathy

3 Apr

What the manifestos and common minimum programmes of political parties and governments in the past held for Dalits.

K.R. DEEPAK

IN the last two decades, major political parties and coalitions in power have expressed sympathy for the Scheduled Castes (S.Cs), the Scheduled Tribes (S.Ts) and the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBCs) /Other Backward Classes (OBCs)/Backward Classes (B.Cs) in their manifestos and common minimum programmes (CMPs).

The CMP of the United Front government in 1996 laudably committed itself comprehensively to the Dalit Manifesto in the following words: “The United Front government will carefully study the Dalit Manifesto formulated by the National Action Forum for Social Justice and implement its salient recommendations.” The Dalit Manifesto referred to is the document of March 7, 1996, incorporating the rights and entitlements of the S.Cs, the S.Ts and the B.Cs authored by me under the auspices of the National Action Forum for Social Justice.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s National Agenda for Governance (NAG) in 1998 promised: “The interests of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Backward Classes will be adequately safeguarded by appropriate legal, executive and societal efforts and by large-scale education and empowerment…. We will continue to offer all assistance to the S.Cs, S.Ts and Backward Classes to ensure their speedy socio-economic development. We will remove the last vestiges of untouchability…. We will present a National Charter for Social Justice (samajik nyay) based on the principle of social harmony (samajik samarasta).”

One of the six basic principles of governance in the National Common Minimum Programme (NCMP) of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in 2004 was: “To provide for full equality of opportunity, particularly in education and employment for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, OBCs and religious minorities.” Specific commitments listed in that CMP under the head “Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes” arranged subject-wise include:

(1) Protecting, strengthening and adding to empowering assets of/for the S.Cs and the S.Ts

“The UPA government will launch a comprehensive national programme for minor irrigation of all lands owned by Dalits and Adivasis. Landless families will be endowed with land through implementation of land ceiling and land redistribution legislation. No reversal of ceilings legislation will be permitted.


“Eviction of tribal communities and other forest-dwelling communities from forest areas will be discontinued…. The rights of tribal communities over mineral resources, water sources, etc., as laid down by law will be fully safeguarded.

“The UPA will urge the States to make legislation for conferring ownership rights in respect of minor forest produce, including tendu patta, on all those people from the weaker sections who work in the forests.”

(2) Symbiosis of tribal communities and forests

“The UPA administration will take all measures to reconcile the objectives of economic growth and environmental conservation, particularly as far as tribal communities dependent on forests are concerned….”

(3) Rehabilitation

“More effective systems of relief and rehabilitation will be put in place for tribal and other groups displaced by development projects. Tribal people alienated from land will be rehabilitated.”

Tribal activists from Koraput demonstrate for land rights, in Bhubaneswar. A file picture.

(4) Reservation in government and public sectors

“All reservation quotas, including those relating to promotions, will be fulfilled in a time-bound manner. To codify all reservations, a Reservation Act will be enacted.”

(5) Reservation in the private sector.

Despite such all-round sympathy, the conditions of S.Cs, S.Ts and B.Cs, including those of religious minorities, have not improved substantially and qualitatively, and in some respects have even worsened. Thus, the goals of economic liberation (transformation from providers of agricultural and other labour into co-equal maliks of the country), educational equalisation at all levels, social dignity and real and total equality of opportunity continue to elude them. The reasons and the remedy for this dichotomy between commitments and outcome are a serious matter affecting the future of these three categories, deserving in-depth consideration by the entire political leadership of the country, particularly now in the run-up to the 15th Lok Sabha elections.

Let us look at the record of implementation of the promises made at these three points of time.

Implementation of the U.F.’s CMP: One plus and one minus.

A laudable initiative of the short-lived United Front government was to provide Rs.250 crore in December 1996, ahead of the Budget of 1997-98, in keeping with its CMP commitment for an important scheme, contained in the Dalit Manifesto, of high quality residential schools from Classes 6 to 12, in all districts for the S.Cs, the S.Ts and the B.Cs, starting with low-literacy districts and girls. This scheme was designated as Kasturba Gandhi Swatantrata Vidyalaya and the outlay was placed at the disposal of the Ministry of Welfare. But it remained in limbo; no such residential school was established and ultimately the accumulated amount provided in successive Budgets was taken away from that Ministry in 2003 and transferred to the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD). After the loss of more than eight years the scheme reappeared in the Budget of 2005-06 with the name Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya with a dilution of the original concept of residential schools of excellence from Classes 6 to 12 and an unrealistically low provision of outlay per school.

Certain negative measures surfaced, while substantive positive action could not emerge. Thus, in 1997, the Department of Personnel was allowed to issue five office memorandums (OMs) substantially damaging reservation. One of these OMs went to the extent of misinterpreting a Supreme Court judgment and pushed the S.Cs from the first position in the roster down to the seventh position and the S.Ts from the third to the 13th position – a blatant injustice crying for the last 12 years for correction and restoration of the status quo ante.

At a protest by members of the Dalit Students Solidarity Movement demanding reservation in posts and services, in New Delhi on February 16.

Implementation of the NDA’s National Agenda for Governance (NAG): One positive and major negatives.

Constitutional amendments to nullify three of the five OMs mentioned above were enacted. But the benefit could accrue to the S.Cs and the S.Ts only partly for want of focussed efforts to enforce their full implementation. Further, the promised National Charter for Social Justice was not presented.

Implementation of the UPA’s CMP: Some progress but major disappointments.

No allocations were made in any of the Budgets for the promised Comprehensive National Programme of Minor Irrigation of all lands of the S.Cs and the S.Ts. No Ministry was made responsible for this important liberating and empowering programme.

Regarding the commitment to the S.Cs and the S.Ts that landless families (which means all landless families) among them will be endowed with land, there has been no progress worth mentioning, and that is perhaps why the various reports to the people on the implementation of the NCMP, issued by the government, do not even make a mention of this programme.

A Standing Committee of Ministers on Dalit Affairs was set up in 2005. When everything required for Dalits is well known, the establishment of a committee becomes only an excuse for inaction and indolence. The committee appointed subcommittees. The committee cleared the recommendations of the subcommittees in latter 2008 and communicated them to the respective Ministries for issue of orders. These recommendations are positive and sound, but not a single order or action has emanated. I brought this to the notice of important leaders of the Congress, but with no concrete result.

In the light of a commitment to the S.Cs and the S.Ts in the CMP, a Bill for reservation in posts and services for the S.Cs, the S.Ts and the B.Cs was introduced in Parliament in 2005. It went through the mill of a Parliamentary Standing Committee. Then it reached a roadblock on account of certain issues pertaining to the B.Cs. The government then separated the Bills and introduced the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Reservation in Posts and Services) Bill, 2008, in the Rajya Sabha in its brief December 2008 session. This Bill was passed with a number of indefensible exemptions and blockages, which preclude the fulfilment of reservation at higher levels and in a number of educational and other institutions, and certain other undesirable provisions as well as lacunae.

As the matter came to public notice when it was due to reach the Lok Sabha in its brief and final session in February 2009, it naturally created a furore. As requested by Dalit leaders, I prepared a list of amendments required in the Bill, deleting all harmful provisions and inserting provisions essential for the fulfilment of reservation without dilution. These amendments were discussed and accepted by S.C. and S.T. Ministers and Members of Parliament and handed over by them to the top leadership. It was still possible to bring a Bill so amended to the Lok Sabha and get it passed and to get the amended Bill passed in the Rajya Sabha also before the announcement of elections. But this did not happen.

The Bill for the B.Cs was forgotten. There has been very little discourse about the problems of the B.Cs and their aspirations even though they are mainly the victims of the destruction of traditional occupations and the alienation of traditional resources, as in the case of artisans, fisherfolk, stonecutters and peasants, causing their tremendous immiseration.

Discourse about all the three categories of people is very limited. Even this is typically conducted within the narrow contextual framework of electoral advantage and not in the context of right and wrong, rights and entitlements, and the interests of the nation.

One of the commitments fulfilled was the passing of the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admissions) Act, 2006. As usual, this Act was challenged in the Supreme Court. The HRD Ministry took my help to place all socio-historical and current facts, fully and in perspective, before the Supreme Court through its lawyers.

The Supreme Court upheld the Act on April 10, 2008. The government was also to bring in a Bill on reservation in admissions to private educational institutions in terms of the 93rd constitutional amendment. This has not happened despite the efforts of the HRD Ministry.

A positive step for the S.Ts was the enactment of the Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Regulation of Forests Rights) Act, 2006, but its thorough and total implementation is awaited.

The Plan provisions, Budget outlays and the special component plans for the S.Cs and the tribal sub-plans have all been far short of what the S.Cs and the S.Ts are entitled to and what is mandated by the Constitution, national commitments and NCMP promises.

Manifestos of political parties should, in the part relating to the S.Cs, the S.Ts and the B.Cs, including those belonging to religious minorities, comprehensively spell out the specific steps required to achieve the goals of their economic liberation and educational equalisation and social dignity and real and total equality of opportunity for them.

These three social categories constitute about three-fourths of the Indian population and the near-totality of the country’s labour force. Their legitimate needs have to be fulfilled in order to see that the Indian nation is able to progress and rise to its full potential. Since coalitions have become a fact of life in our country, their CMPs also should spell out these steps.

Thereafter, unlike in the past, the promises should be taken seriously right from day one and practical steps should be taken to fulfil them without allowing anyone to put obstacles.

An example of serious commitment to the fulfilment of manifesto promises was Prime Minister V.P. Singh, in 1990. He regularly discussed each promise at fortnightly meetings and personally monitored progress. I, as Secretary of the crucial Welfare Ministry, had the opportunity to participate actively and help in their fulfilment.

I have communicated to a number of political parties a list of manifesto points, including land for all rural S.C. and S.T. families; the development of all lands of the S.Cs and the S.Ts through a comprehensive national programme of minor irrigation; the setting up of quality residential schools and a leak-proof reservation Act providing for reservation in private educational institutions; the establishment of exclusive special courts for speedy trials under the S.C. and S.T. (Prevention of Atrocities) Act; the transfer of 15 per cent and 7.5 per cent of Plan outlays, before sectoral distribution, to the special component plan for S.Cs and the tribal sub-plan respectively for relevant comprehensive planning by the National S.C. and S.T. Development Authority and similar State Authorities to be newly established; and other important measures required for the S.Cs, the S.Ts and the B.Cs, including those of religious minorities. To these has to be added a new reservation Act in posts and services incorporating the comprehensive amendments circulated in February 2009.

In the general election, the S.Cs, the S.Ts and the B.Cs, should press the main contestants in each constituency for commitments to move these comprehensive manifesto points in their parties’ manifestos and CMPs and for their serious fulfilment.•

P.S. Krishnan is a former Secretary to the Government of India.

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