Monday, February 18, 2013

Scheduled Castes & Tribes at Threshold of Twelfth Plan

FASTER, More Inclusive and Sustainable Growth --- this is the slogan of the Twelfth Five Year Plan (2012-17). In its introduction, the first volume of the plan document states: “Inclusiveness is not about bringing those below a fixed official poverty line to a level above it. It is also about a growth process which is seen to be fair by different socio-economic groups that constitute our society. The poor are certainly one target group, but inclusiveness must also embrace the concern of other groups such as scheduled castes (SCs), scheduled tribes (STs), other backward classes (OBCs), minorities, differently abled and other marginalised groups” (Vol 1, p 6).

Thus one of the main aims of the plan is to reduce the prevailing inequities between these social groups and the others. Yet this goal is only a different version of the stated objectives of the eleventh plan which claimed to use a three pronged strategy of social empowerment, economic empowerment and social justice. The twelfth plan notes that despite the measures to bridge the gaps, the latter still persist, and proposes measures to address these inequities. However, a closer look at the proposed measures shows that the government has only packaged the old strategies in a new garb.


The biggest disappointment in the plan document comes from the lack of a vision as far as the future of the special component and the sub-plans for the SCs and STs are concerned. The plan document holds that despite three decades of its implementation, the sub-plans have not achieved the desired results. It therefore seeks to implement the guidelines of the 2010 task force which identified 25 ministries for the implementation of the SC sub-plan and 28 ministries for the implementation the ST sub-plan. It thus accepts the limited basis on which the sub-plans are to be implemented and accepts the mandate of targeted development of these social groups. Thus it does not make contribution to the sub-plan mandatory for all the concerned ministries and only aims to meet the shortfall in the allocation of funds through a stricter monitoring of implementation by a limited number of ministries.

The plan document thus aims to cut the mandatory contributions from these ministries (i.e. 16.2 per cent for the SC and 8.2 per cent for the ST sub-plan) from the gross budgetary support to these ministries. It is envisaged that this fund will be used to fund the programmes like MGNREGA and education schemes which can “demonstratively benefit SCs and STs” (Vol 2, pp 247-248).

It is thus clear, especially in the case of the tribal sub-plan, that the twelfth plan has further shifted the focus from development of designated tribal areas to targeted development of individual beneficiaries. Any improvement in the functioning of individual schemes is also oriented towards this, as is evident from the strategy for expanding the list of works under the MGNREGA to include the artisans’ works, better compensation for land acquisition or improvement in the rates of scholarship for the SCs and ST students. In doing so, the plan document does not deal adequately with the emerging macro situation and the challenges that confront the SC and ST people today.


One of the most important problems confronting these social groups is the problem of displacement and landlessness. In the period between 2004-05 and 2009-10, the SCs and STs experienced a significant decline in terms of access to land. The percentage of the STs who possessed no land (i.e. that were occupied but not owned) increased by 6.5 per cent where as in case of the SCs it increased by 5.9 per cent. About 74.1 per cent of the SCs and 46.6 per cent of the STs occupied lands that were less than 0.4 hectares or one acre of land. This number has increased from 2004-05 by 1.5 to 2 per cent for both the SCs and STs, signifying an increased marginalisation of holdings.

The situation is similar in case of “owned and cultivated” lands where about 37.2 per cent of the STs and 58.9 per cent of the SCs had no access to such land in 2009-10 --- an increase of 3.6 per cent for the STs and 2.5 per cent for the SCs over 2004-05. That the rate of increase in landlessness is highest for the STs is especially alarming, especially four years after the implementation of the Forest Rights Act. In such a situation the twelfth plan aims to strengthen the implementation of the act and distribute surplus land (Vol 2, p 243).

For the SCs, moreover, it does not even earmark landlessness as a significant problem and therefore provides no solution for it.

At the same time the plan also does not address the problems of corporate land grab and benami holdings, which are some of the systemic problems leading to landlessness. The limited measures proposed by the plan are not informed by either sustainable land use or equitable development.


Another trend which the twelfth plan should have accounted for in a more serious manner is the rising unemployment amongst the SCs and STs.  Between 2004-05 and 2009-10, both the groups saw a decline in both agriculture based self-employment as well as agricultural labour in the rural areas. It is also significant that this decline was much higher for the SCs (3.6 per cent in agricultural labour and 1.6 per cent in self-employment) than the STs (1.7 per cent in self-employment and 1.6 per cent in agricultural labour).

In the same period, there has been a significant increase in dependence on other forms of labour in the rural areas, i.e., bout 2 per cent for the STs and 6.3 per cent for the SCs. This trend is also seen in the urban areas where there was a decline in the work participation ratios in all categories, except for casual labour, and where employment increased by 3.8 per cent for the STs and 3.3 per cent for the SCs. Similarly, in the two year period of 2007-08 to 2009-10 the rural labour force participation rates of the SCs and STs declined by 1.6 and 2.2 per cent respectively. In the urban areas they remained relatively stable with a slight decline of 0.3 per cent among the STs.

This trend is significant because the participation of SC and ST women labourers has registered a slight increase of 1.3 per cent and 0.3 per cent in the urban areas. This rising trend of women labour participation in the urban areas has to be contrasted with the rural areas where the labour force participation of women has fallen by 2.7 per cent for the STs and 3.7 per cent for the SCs.

The importance of this decline has to be seen in the background of the poor performance of MGNREGA in the last three years. An analysis of the annual data provided by the nodal agency (the Ministry of RURAL Development) shows that employment under this scheme has fallen by 43 per cent in general, by about 62 per cent for the SCs and 48 per cent for the STs during 2008-12.

The NSSO report of 2009-10 confirms this abysmal picture. It estimates that the STs were getting an average of 42 person days and SCs an average of 35 person days of work under the scheme. At the same time, an estimated 19.7 per cent of the STs and 22.2 per cent of the SCs, who sought work, did not get employment.

In this context, the twelfth plan strategy of expanding the types of work under MGNREGA may be a positive step, but it may not be enough to stem the tide of rising unemployment. The other measures its advocates are largely focussed on capacity building, skill development and public private partnerships in creating livelihood options along with TRIFED and finance development corporations that have been set up for these social groups. In the case of the SCs it proposes the development of a national level marketing organisation like TRIFED (Vol 2, p 228). It also refers to training of craftsmen in “employable skills” or a “modular training,” microfinancing and risk sharing that will integrate SC artisans into the open markets (Vol 2, p 227). Hence while the focus on skill upgradation is important, it needs to be supported by regulation of markets, low interest credit from banks, technological support and subsidies to cover the risk factor and a revival of small enterprises, none of which find a place in the twelfth plan strategy for the SCs. In the absence of these, such artisans would only succumb to the domination of and exploitation by corporate capital.


The structural factors mentioned above have resulted in rising inequities within these social groups and between them and others.  In 2004-05, 15.6 per cent of the STs and 7.8 per cent of the SCs constituted the bottom 10 per cent of the rural households, i.e. households below the lowest income group. In 2009-10, moreover, this proportion increased to 18.4 per cent for the STs and 12.6 per cent for the SCs. In the urban areas 13.5 per cent of the STs and 12.8 per cent of the SCs were among the bottom 10 per cent of the urban households. But in 2009-10 this proportion rose to 16.3 per cent for the STs and 17 per cent for the SCs.

These data clearly indicate the rising trend in the number of poor households among these social groups. In 2004-05, an estimated 67.4 per cent of the rural STs and 66.2 per cent of the urban STs lived below the average monthly per capita consumer expenditure (MPCE). This proportion rose to 73.5 per cent for rural and 69.1 for urban STs in 2009-10. In a similar vein, 70.5 per cent of the rural SCs and 67.3 per cent of the urban SCs lived below their average MPCE in 2004-05. But in 2009-10 this proportion rose to 78.5 per cent for the rural SCs and 65.2 per cent for the urban SCs.

Thus while there seems to be an increasing inequity in rural India, in urban India the situation of both these social groups remains the same with little improvement. In contrast, the largest proportions of people from the OBC and other households came from an income group which was above their average MPCE. Despite the government’s much publicised claims that poverty is declining rapidly among these social groups, these estimates seem to tell a different story and point to rising inequities.

This grim scenario is, however, not reflected in the strategy for the twelfth plan period. Rather the document simply assumes that the situation is and has been getting better since the introduction of the reforms. It is therefore important to understand the place of this plan within the scheme of corporate capital that seeks to dominate as well as use the labour and resources of these social groups.

Archana Prasad People's Democracy 10 February 2013

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