While announcing the Stand-Up India scheme in 2015 in his Independence Day speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had repeatedly invoked the number 125, to mark Dr B.R. Ambedkar’s 125th anniversary that year – “1.25 lakh branches of banks” would disburse start-up loans between Rs 10 lakh and Rs 1 crore to create “1.25 lakh Dalit entrepreneurs”. Somewhat passingly, Modi had also referred to “women entrepreneurs” among the possible beneficiaries of the scheme. The focus was on the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes; women were an addendum.
As the Modi government and its finance ministry led by Nirmala Sitharaman celebrate the completion of “six successful years” of Stand-up India, a look at the scheme-related data tells us a different story. The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, whom Modi had put at the forefront, are a footnote in the list of beneficiaries.
Consider this: The finance ministry data shared by Sitharaman says 81 per cent of the beneficiaries of the Stand-Up India scheme are women. Out of Rs 30,160 crore loan disbursed, women entrepreneurs got Rs 24,809 crore, Scheduled Caste entrepreneurs Rs 3,976 crore, and Scheduled Tribes only Rs 1,373 crore.
#6yearsofStandUpIndia played a vital role in promoting entrepreneurship among SCs/STs and women categories. By extending loans of more than ₹30,000 crore, scheme has given new wings to the dreams of budding entrepreneurs. pic.twitter.com/8ZfkEUtxOE
— DFS (@DFS_India) April 5, 2022
Even in terms of the number of beneficiaries, the data is similarly skewed. Of the total 1.34 lakh beneficiaries under the scheme (against the intended 15 lakh), SC/ST accounted for only 25,745. The ministry data is silent about the community-wise categorisation of women entrepreneurs. But we can draw our own conclusions from the fact that if SC/ST male applicants are not able to make the cut, then it would have been almost impossible for SC/ST women to get a loan in the general women category.
The Stand-Up India scheme undoubtedly worked successfully for women. This might be the reason that almost all campaign materials of the Modi government celebrating the ‘success stories’ have pictures and videos of women. This shows that the scheme meant for SC/ST has been usurped by women while the SC/ST and their mention are all just for optics.
Why SC/ST were overlooked
There are three possible reasons for the marginalisation of the SC/ST from the Stand-Up India scheme. First, the SC/ST youth do not know about the scheme. Second, they are not applying for loans. Third, bank branches are refusing loans to them.
To argue that the SC/ST youth do not know about the scheme is to assume that in this era of communication oversupply, Modi’s Independence Day speech did not reach almost 25 per cent of the Indian population defies logic. This government and the BJP arguably have the most efficient communication infrastructure in India. A message not reaching the target groups despite all the efforts of the BJP and the Modi government is simply difficult to believe.
Second, it is definitely possible that the SC/ST youth are not applying for this easy long-term loan because there are certain thresholds to be met before loans are approved. In that case, it is the banks’ duty to do the necessary hand-holding and provide SC/ST with the support to make this scheme successful among the target classes. Going by the data, the banks either did not undertake such efforts or they did but it failed to produce desired results. India’s jobs data shows that unemployment is rampant among the SC/ST youth and if provided with an opportunity, they will most certainly go the entrepreneurship way and seek loans from banks. So why did that not happen?
Clearly, if banks are not able to disburse loans to SC/ST under a scheme specifically targeted at them, then we can imagine what the scenario would be in case of generic loan disbursals. The exclusion of SCs and STs, whose share in the country’s population is 16.2 per cent and 8.2 per cent, in loan disbursals raises serious questions about the Modi government’s claims of financial inclusion of the oppressed and deprived sections.
It’s all about the intention
The fact that the Stand-Up India scheme is reaching women successfully makes it clear that the banks indeed have the required infrastructure to disburse loans to targeted groups. As such, we are left with only the third possibility – that banks are refusing loans to the SC/ST youth. Is it simply the case of wrong intention or misplaced priorities on the part of the bank officials? If this is the case, then the Modi government should have taken corrective steps. Have the bankers been told by the Modi government to make this scheme inclusive and also take the SC/STs along? We don’t know.
At this juncture, we can conclude that the Stand-Up India scheme has not fulfilled its core purpose of empowering SC/ST youth. It would have been better to divide the scheme into two or three parts and the bank officials should have been given group-specific targets. The Modi government might even consider acknowledging and rewarding the bankers who make this scheme inclusive and reprimand those who fail to meet the target. It’s all about the intention, after all.
In India, social inclusion in government schemes works only when some quota or target is fixed. It simply cannot be left to the ‘good intent’ and ‘benevolence’ of the structure and democracy.
Dilip Mandal is the former managing editor of India Today Hindi Magazine, and has authored books on media and sociology. Views are personal.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)