New Delhi: Around 20 per cent of the funds allocated for the welfare of the Scheduled Castes (SCs) between 2017-18 and 2020-21 — totalling approximately Rs 50,000 crore — were left unused by multiple Union ministries/departments, ThePrint has learnt.
This, sources said, has led the Modi government to propose a change in the framework governing allocation, one where uniform distribution across ministries/departments is switched with investments in high-priority areas, and cash transfers of up to Rs 50,000/annum to beneficiaries.
The matter of unused funds and the government’s proposal envisaging a new system for allocation came up for discussion at a review meeting of the Development Action Plan for Scheduled Castes (DAPSC) 2019-20 earlier this month.
The DAPSC is a government initiative under which funds are allocated to different ministries/departments for schemes aimed at the uplift of the Scheduled Castes (SCs).
In the past four years, from 2017-18 to 2020-21, a total of Rs 2,59,977.40 crore — or approx. Rs 2.6 lakh crore — was sanctioned under the DAPSC.
According to senior government officials, eight ministries/departments account for nearly 80 per cent of the funds left unutilised in this period. These include the Department of Agriculture, Department of School Education and Literacy, and the Ministry of Labour and Employment.
The change in framework has been proposed by the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and pitched as the “PM-Social Inclusion Mission (SIM)”, the officials said. Under PM-SIM, it has been suggested that 40 per cent of the funds for SCs be invested in high-priority sectors and 60 per cent given out through conditional cash transfers.
The proposal was first mooted by government think-tank Niti Aayog and is yet to be approved, sources said.
“The proposed PM-SIM is a conditional cash transfer scheme. It will benefit one crore of the poorest SC and ST (Scheduled Tribes) households. Direct benefit transfer will be done into their Jan Dhan accounts on a quarterly basis,” said an official.
“The maximum amount a household can get would be Rs 50,000 per annum. The cash transfer is conditional to constructive participation of the household in their own future.”
Reached for comment, R. Subrahmanyam, Secretary, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment said the government “is serious about ensuring that funds for the SCs allotted to various ministries are utilised fully and better outcomes are achieved”.
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Special allocation for SC welfare
The concept of separate allocation for the welfare of SCs was introduced in the Sixth Five-Year Plan and has been implemented since 1980. The implementation was led by state governments, before the central government came on board in 1985, the sources added.
However, the implementation by the central government was found to be tardy, as noted in a report by the Niti Aayog’s predecessor, the Planning Commission.
“A review conducted in 2009 found that only 17 central ministries were implementing it. Notional allocations are rampant and there is no focus on priority areas,” the Planning Commission said in a report.
In 2017 a NITI Aayog report pointed to the need for continuing the special allocation for SCs/STs, earmarked against the scheme budget.
The term SC Sub-Plan used by the Planning Commission was then replaced with DAPSC.
The DAPSC, the report said, is aimed at ensuring a substantial and rapid reduction in poverty and unemployment among the SCs, and the creation of productive assets and other means of livelihood in favour of SCs to empower them to share gains of development equitably.
However, the implementation of the DAPSC has lagged behind expectations, officials said.
Of the allocation from 2017-18 to 2020-21, Rs 49,722.18 crore was surrendered by ministries/departments, officials said, quoting discussions at the review meeting.
The highest amount of surrender came last year, with around 41 per cent of the allocation returned, the sources added.
All but 20 per cent of the unused funds could be attributed to eight ministries/departments — the Department of Agriculture, the Department of School Education and Literacy, the Ministry of Labour and Employment, the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, the Department of Health and Family Welfare, the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, the Department of Social Justice and Empowerment, and the Ministry of Power.
Not only this, Rs 1.33 lakh crore allocated to 10 departments was found to have not benefited the SCs directly.
“There were no specific schemes for SCs and no database of beneficiaries maintained. It was more of an accounting formality and 10 major departments resorted to notional allocations,” said a second official.
These departments include the Department of School Education and Literacy, the Department of Health and Family Welfare, the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation, the Department of Women and Child Development, and the Department of Higher Education.
Pointing to the problems with the present system, it was argued at the meeting that the allocation is spread thin and there is no special emphasis on priority areas.
“It requires a greater focus on livelihoods, education, health, nutrition, drinking water and housing. Improper utilisation and large-scale accounting formality — notional allocation will not be able to bring credible outcomes. Infrastructure ministries are unable to take up specific schemes for SCs and there is no monitoring of outcomes,” the second official said, quoting discussions at the meeting.
The Union Ministry of Finance, the sources said, has also suggested removing DAPSC from infrastructure ministries. It has pointed out that the NITI Aayog will study if any ministries have been left out.
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