To bridge the gap in development between the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and non-SCs and STs, a coalition of more than 150 organisations is demanding a national law to prevent, once and for all, the diversion, non-release, non-implementation and lapsing of the Special Component Plans for SCs/STs.

In response to the coalition’s longstanding demands, the National Advisory Council’s guidance and the letter Sonia Gandhi wrote to the Prime Minister in 2011, the Centre has formed an inter-ministerial working group to come up with a Bill. One formal meeting has taken place and a draft is expected in the first week of May, according to Paul Divakar, convener of the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights.

“This Act will re-establish the right of SC/STs to plan for themselves. The funds under the SCP that have for years been diverted to build flyovers, rubberised roads in Delhi, jails in Odisha, statues and other decorative things, need protection through legislation, which is very critical,” Mr. Divakar said.

A former Secretary to the government of India, P.S. Krishnan said these concepts had been accepted in writing by the government and “promises have been made for more than three decades now. It is a matter of urgency and will of the government to make it happen. If they want, it can be done in the current parliamentary session itself.”

Andhra Pradesh recently became the first State to have a law protecting the interests of the SCs and STs in budget allocation. The Andhra Pradesh Scheduled Castes Sub-Plan and Tribal Sub-Plan (Planning, Allocation and Utilisation of Financial Resources) Act, 2013, came into being on January 24.

Taking its cue from this, the coalition has suggested the setting up of a nodal agency or development authority for disbursement and appraisal of funds under the SCPs.

“Schemes and programmes shall have special focus on gender concerns with emphasis on empowerment of women, including girl-children. Besides, all children, youth, aged and people with disability and other vulnerable social identities within SCs and STs shall be considered on a priority basis. Schemes and programmes shall be included in, and funded from, the SCP which directly and exclusively benefit SC individuals, families, groups, habitations and institutions in order to fulfil the overarching objectives listed above,” suggests the legislation. It also proposes proper planning process for allocation, accounting norms for SCP, consultation with SC/ST communities and their representatives, transparency, incentives, penalties and parliamentary accountability.

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