TN Budget: Finance Minister PTR announces Bill to govern SC/ST Sub Plan

Activists and organisations, such as the NCSTL, who had earlier drafted a people’s Bill on SC/ST Sub Plan, have welcomed the move.
TN Budget: Finance Minister PTR announces Bill to govern SC/ST Sub Plan
TN Budget: Finance Minister PTR announces Bill to govern SC/ST Sub Plan

In what is seen as a welcome move by activists, the Tamil Nadu state government has announced its intention to introduce a Bill to govern the Scheduled Caste Sub Plan (SCSP) and the Tribal Sub Plan (TSP) in the next Assembly session. The announcement came during the Budget speech by Tamil Nadu Finance Minister Palanivel Thiagarajan on Monday, March 20. The Minister said that the Bill will be introduced after “consultations with stakeholders.” 

Reacting to the announcement, co-convenor of the National Coalition on SCP-TSP Legislation (NCSTL), Richard Devadoss, called it a “good development,” adding, “This shows that the state government has been convinced that this Bill needs to be introduced.” The NCSTL had earlier drafted a people’s Bill regarding the SCSP and TSP which had been submitted to Chief Minister MK Stalin and relevant government departments.  Earlier this year, at the state-level conference held by the NCSTL in Chennai, MP and Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) president Thol Thirumavalavan had promised his party’s support for the Bill. 

The coalition is formed by various organisations such as Adivasi Solidarity Council (ASC), the Dalit Arthik Adhikar Andolan (DAAA), and the Social Awareness Society for Youth (SASY). Richard Devadoss also said, “Now our hope is that the main concerns of the Bill are retained. The foremost aspect of the Bill is decentralising the process. The people’s draft Bill clearly lays out recommendations for the formation of nodal bodies and district level administrators, so that the people concerned – Dalit and Adivasi communities – can be involved in the process. The Bill says that the process must therefore begin at the panchayat level. We hope that the government will be open to discussions and we welcome negotiations to arrive at a version of the Bill that will be the best fit for Dalit and Adivasi communities.” 

Devadoss added, “This announcement shows that the multiple levels of lobbying with the CM’s office, bureaucrats, civil society organisations, and various state government departments has borne fruit. This is also a reflection on the groundwork that was put into drafting the people’s  draft Bill.” The NCSTL had carried out research in Telangana where state-level legislature already exists to govern the SCSP and the STP, and had found that the Dalit Bandhu scheme in particular was hugely beneficial to Dalit communities.”

In February this year, an RTI filed by Madurai-based activist S Karthik revealed that the expenditure of the allocated funds to the SCSP in Tamil Nadu has been dismal in the last six years. The data had revealed that expenditure had decreased each year during both All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) regimes. A month before today’s budget announcement, the Adi Driavidar and Tribal Welfare Department (AD&TW) had been sitting on the Rs 10,466 crore meant to be spent on the SCSP for the financial year 2022-23. 

Ramesh Nath, who is the Tamil Nadu state convenor for the NCSTL says, “This is a welcome move from the state government and we would like to register our thanks. A discussion before introducing the Bill will also be welcome.” With regard to the elements that need to be retained from the people’s draft Bill, Ramesh Nath says, “Firstly, the allocation of funds needs to happen from the state budget based on the percentage of population of Dalit and Adivasi communities in Tamil Nadu. Currently 19% of the population is believed to be Dalit and Adivasi, so 19% of the budget needs to be allocated for the SCSP and TSP. This is what the people’s draft Bill recommends.”

The activist also emphasises Devadoss’s point, saying that the people’s Bill asks for the implementation of nodal agencies and district level administration to oversee the Sub Plan expenditure. “This needs to be done. Thirdly, there should not be any budgetary lapse. That is, allocated funds should be spent by the end of the financial year. If there are funds left, it should be carried forward to the next year. Currently leftover funds are not carried forward,” he says. 

Speaking to TNM, C Lakshmanan, associate professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS), questioned why the Bill can not be introduced in the ongoing Assembly session. He said, “I don’t understand what is there to discuss with stakeholders. The demand for special legislation has been going on for years. The state government already knows what similar legislations in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh say. If they were truly sincere about introducing the Bill, they would have done so in this session. Why wait until the next session, that will be too close to the Lok Sabha elections and the focus will be on campaigning.”  

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