Where there is a will
The Andhra Pradesh Assembly did itself proud by passing a Bill aimed at bringing the State's disadvantaged sections on a par with the rest of society in economic, educational and human development terms in the next 10 years. For far too long, the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes have had to remain content with empty promises of upliftment and empowerment by political parties whose real agenda was to mine their vote bank. What other conclusion can be drawn after successive governments made a mockery of the initiative taken in the Fifth Five Year Plan to end the dual disabilities of economic exploitation and social discrimination of SCs and STs by earmarking funds exclusively for them in each annual plan? The weaker sections constitute a majority of those living below the poverty line and it is the State's duty to apply the Directive Principles to protect them. The reality, sadly, has been quite different. Funds earmarked under SC and ST sub-plans have regularly been diverted for sundry projects unconnected to their welfare and development, such as the cleaning of Hussainsagar Lake in Hyderabad.
A similar diversion of funds is taking place in many States with reckless disregard for Dr. B.R. Ambedkar's vision for the downtrodden. Ideally, in Andhra Pradesh, 22.8 per cent of the Annual Plan should be earmarked for SC and ST sub-plans in proportion to the total population. At best, implementation has been tardy and found lacking in sincerity of purpose and political will. The Special Component Plan funds for SCs in the 19-year period from 1992-93 to 2010-11 amounted to Rs. 40,830 crore and the allocation Rs. 32,954 crore. Shockingly, the actual expenditure was only Rs. 19,225 crore. A positive feature in the endeavour to reverse this deplorable trend has been the role played by civil society groups. They were instrumental in pressuring the government to enact a law, mandating not merely allocation of funds for SCs and STs but ensuring they are properly spent. Political parties fell in line, temporarily setting aside their narrow agendas for passage of the APSCs Sub-Plan and STs Sub-Plan (Planning, Allocation and Utilisation of Financial Resources) Bill, 2012. Leaders of the faction-ridden ruling Congress even saw in the legislation a political opportunity to project themselves as champions of the underprivileged by appropriating credit for the historic legislation. All this happened amid the uncertainty over Telangana and a fractious Congress leadership. Change, it has been proved, can be brought about peacefully and silently provided the cause is right.