(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
March 29, 2009
UPA Betrays Social Justice
R Arun Kumar
FIVE summers ago, Congress workers across the country were sweating it out convincing the people about their commitment towards aam admi. After cobbling together a coalition, they came out with a manifesto outlining a minimum programme for action and sat on the seat of power. Once again this summer, they are wiping the dust off their campaign machinery to approach the people for their vote. They have already started to rake a set of claims to trumpet their 'achievements', and have come with a rehashed and repackaged version of the earlier promises in their election manifesto. Jai ho!
Amidst this tomtomming, the Congress party is consciously trying to evade a proper analysis of the promises they have made in the NCMP and their implementation. They do not want people to remember or judge them on the basis of the implementation of these earlier promises. Let us evaluate them on one issue – the welfare of dalits and the question of social justice.
In the introduction of the NCMP, they have identified six basic principles of governance. One of them states “to provide for full equality of opportunity, particularly in education and employment for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, OBCs and religious minorities”. Further in the sub-section pertaining to the welfare of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes it was explicitly stated, “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”.
A KILL BILL
With elections on the horizon, in the month of December 2008, the UPA government has hastily decided to push through the 'Reservation Act' in the Rajya Sabha and thus exhibit its 'commitment' towards providing 'full equality of opportunity'. This Bill instead of elevating 'the provision of reservations into a statutory right' was in reality a 'Kill Bill'. Provisions in the Bill virtually cull reservations in the posts of Group A and above for dalits. Instead of allocating money for the training of personnel from these sections, they had subjected these programmes to the availability of finance.
In another instance in December 2007, the government had issued an order stating that scholarships to dalit students should be given only to those who secure more than 60 per cent of marks. So much for their love for social justice and resolve to 'provide for full equality of opportunity'!
Of course, both these orders were modified by the government, thanks to the 'negativity' of the Left parties and the public outcry against them. But they exposed the real intentions of the government. The inclusion of such notorious provisions at the first instance cannot be written off as a mischief of some bureaucrat or an executive’s inadvertent slip of oversight. There is a purpose and sinister design behind it.
The government sought to defend its stance arguing that it is trying to protect quality. This debate of quality also echoes the diatribe of the 'anti-reservationists'. They too had argued that reservations compromise quality. It is the unity of interests that saw the convergence of both their viewpoints.
'Quality' as we know is a highly relative term. Quality does not spring from vacuum and is absolutely dependent on the socio-economic factors of a particular time and a particular section. It is imperative upon the government to initiate necessary steps to obliterate the vast socio-economic disparities existing in our society. This is not just fulfilling an election promise but living true to its oath of office. Congress party, the leader of the UPA has to own up a fair share of responsibility in its failure to fulfil this promise by virtue of ruling for maximum number of years. Instead, it is blaming and punishing the Scheduled Caste students and employees for the 'lack of quality' and trying to shun its responsibility.
In spite of all the tall talk, it is a fact that dalits constitute the bottom of our socio-economic pyramid. They constitute the majority of people living below poverty line, majority of the malnourished and majority of those who do not have any access to economic resources. According to Arjun Sen Gupta report, 88 per cent of dalits earn less than Rs 20 per day. They are the worst affected by price rise. 63 per cent households do not have access to safe drinking water and 66 per cent to sanitation. 56 per cent of the dalit households have still not benefited from electrification. Many of their villages are still unreachable to our education and health departments. In all the socio-economic indicators, except for those holding the maximum wealth, dalits are at the bottom of the pile. Together with all these, they are burdened and excluded by the worst and inhuman practice of untouchability. It would only be naive, rather insane, to argue that all these factors do not have an effect on quality. When dalits are not to blame for their present disposition, how could they be punished for 'lack of quality'?
It is necessary here to see whether the UPA had done anything substantial to alter the quality of the lives of dalits instead of punishing them for the lack of quality. A study of the government's resource allocation to the Scheduled Caste Sub Plan (SCSP, whose feature is to earmark funds from the total Plan outlay proportionate to the SC population) is a pointer towards the government's philosophy.
This year the total Plan Outlay is Rs 2,12,431 crores and as per the SCSP, SCs are liable to get Rs 34,413.82 crores. The total allocation under SCSP is only Rs15,280.08 crores, thus denying the Scheduled Castes Rs 19,133.74 crores. The amount allocated to SCs is a meagre 7.1 per cent of the total Plan Outlay. This is not a feature for this year alone but a phenomenon of all these five years. Every year there was a shortfall and if the total for all the five years is taken together it is a whopping Rs 72,537.10 crores! It would be foolish to expect qualitative improvement in the lives of dalits with this massive cut in the stipulated allocation of resources. This government is generous only in words and miserly in deeds when it comes to ensuring social justice.
The lives of dalits would have been better if the government was true to its promise, “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”. Instead, what is happening is, the land mafia with the open connivance of the ruling party honchos is grabbing whatever little amount of land is allotted to the dalits. Rare were instances where land is distributed to the poor and landless. What is thoroughly documented is the government's largesse in enabling the presentation of huge tracts of land to the rich and mighty.
The government did not initiate any step to enact a comprehensive legislation to the benefit of agricultural workers. It also failed to fill up the backlog vacancies. To put it in a word, the government had failed in ensuring dalits access to resources that generate wealth. This, in itself, shows the government’s lack of interest in the real empowerment of dalits.
The Congress party had also promised reservations in private sector. As the text of the NCMP states, it has initiated 'a national dialogue' but left it midway in the face of opposition from the big bourgeoisie. This exposes the class bias of the government and its intention to use reservations as a means to piggy ride on the shoulders of dalits to power.
In terms of initiating some concrete steps towards achieving social justice, the government can 'boast' of constitutional amendment and subsequent legislation for providing reservations to the backward classes in the society. This too was an outcome of the pressure exerted by the Left parties and the academicia. Even here, the government confined itself to providing reservations for OBCs in the central government educational institutions and could not proceed further to implement them in the large number of private education institutions. Moreover, the government is acting as if its duty ends with the provision of reservations and nothing more needs to be done. Reservations, in fact, have to be backed up with scholarships, freeships, remedial classes, free textbooks and other such facilities.
CUT IN ALLOCATIONS
In the last full budget presented to the parliament by this government last year, it had cut the allocations to the post matric scholarships for the dalit students. They were reduced to Rs 731 crores (further cut down to Rs 622.5 crores in the revised estimates) from Rs 811 crores (2007-08 RE). Irony is, the government decreased funding to bring in 3 lakh new students under its scope! This year witnessed only a nominal increase of 4 crores compared to the last year’s budget estimates. Allocations to even Rajiv Gandhi fellowship scheme were cut from Rs 87.9 crores (RE) to Rs 79 crores. Only 4.38 per cent of the money allocated to pre-matric scholarships to children of those engaged in unclean occupations was actually spent. No wonder the CAG was forced to pass adverse comments on the government's ineptitude.
The same is the case regarding the implementation of the recommendations of the Oversight committee set up to suggest means for the implementation of OBC reservations in central government educational institutes. Never did the government allocate money according to the suggestions made by the committee. It requires tons of political will and commitment to achieve equality. The Congress manifesto might contain just a cursory reference to the fiscal responsibility management act and loads of phrases on social justice and welfare of aam admi, but it is always the former that gets the priority.
The Congress party led UPA had not only failed to mitigate the economic miseries of the dalits but even failed to resolve their social problems. It had done precious little to stop the atrocities committed on dalits. Even today, every 18 minutes a crime is committed against dalits; everyday 3 dalit women are raped and 11 dalits beaten; 13 dalits murdered and 5 dalit houses are burnt every week. These are apart from the various instances of caste discrimination.
It is really surprising that the prime minister in this background of stark reality still has the heart to claim that they have implemented 80 per cent of their promises. This, in itself, shows their web of deceit. Without remorse or shame, the Congress party is once again coming with a slew of promises for reservations to various sections. It is proudly stating its intention to please all and aptly mask the fact that nobody can please all. Such claims only mean that they are once again into the art of deception. Experience shows that it is dalits, adivasis and other aam admi whom the Congress wants to deceive once again. This time around, they are bound to fail as times have changed and people have matured.