Budget or theft of the nation's wealth

ChandraBhan Prasad

Nobody seems happy with the Union Budget 2002. The kisans (read kulaks) are angry because fertiliser subsidies have been lowered while the corporate world is unhappy it still has to pay taxes and that the Government has not yet fully transferred over to it the wealth the Indian State controls. The middle classes are unhappy because they will have to pay more for LPG, which they have been getting at highly subsidised rates up till now.

But where are the Dalits in this Rs 4.1 trillion game? And do they have something to say about the Budget? No expert on TV or in the print media has reflected the concerns Dalits might have? Those who listened to the finance minister's speech may tend to think India is no longer a caste society, where a large number of citizens are not part of the money market, or that India has achieved "Europe-hood" in terms of its social fabric.

The FM, in his Budget speech, outlined the following:

1. Continue with the emphasis on agriculture and food economy reforms,

2. Enhance public and private investment in infrastructure,

3. Strengthen the financial sector and capital market,

4. Deepen structural reforms and regenerate industrial growth,

5. Provide social security to the poor,

6. Consolidate tax reforms and continue fiscal adjustment at both the Central and state levels.

Does this strategy, anywhere, address India's caste divide and the disadvantages borne by the Untouchables and Tribals. No, not in the strategy but the Dalits do get a passing reference. The FM shows his benevolence in para 73: "Allocation for the welfare and uplift of scheduled castes in the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has been increased from Rs 729 crore this year to Rs 879 crore in the coming year. The Ministry of Tribal Welfare has launched a number of schemes to improve the social and economic life of scheduled tribes. In order to meet the requirements of various schemes such as scholarships and hostels for improved access to quality education, the establishment of Grain Banks and other support schemes under the National Scheduled Tribes Finance and Development Corporation (NSTFDC), I have increased the plan outlay for tribal welfare by 21 per cent to Rs 290 crore for 2002-03."

This is what 25 crore Dalits got as direct assistance from a huge Rs 4.1 trillion Budget provision. This total allocation works out to Rs 1,169 per head or Rs 46.76 per capita per annum. If divided by 12, that comes down to Rs 3.89 per month and if divided by 30, it comes to about 13 paisa a day per capita. The 13 paise are expected to address the Dalits' educational needs, economic empowerment, anti-untouchability etc.

This year is no exception to all the others. The attitude, ever since independence, has been quite the same where the ruling elite has only cracked crude jokes at the toiling Dalit masses - who, incidentally, play a decisive role in creating India's wealth.

One can well argue that provisions from other heads also ultimately trickle down to the Dalits. This has been the logic used by believers of Walt Whitman Rostow, an economic historian and the man who popularised the Linear Stages Theory of economic development, where he propounded the Trickle Down Theory.

Since almost every second Dalit is a landless agricultural labourer, more than 63 per cent of them are illiterate, only 9.85 per cent enjoy the three basic civic amenities - safe drinking water, an electricity connection and a toilet - together. Hardly any Dalit works in the nation's stock exchanges or in corporate offices at Nariman point or in showrooms at Delhi's Connaught Place - the trickle down theory hasn't worked in India.

In what way does a Dalit benefit from the Rs 75,000 crore doled out to the agricultural sector a la "kisan ki azadi"? A very small section of Dalits owns land and over 80 per cent of Dalit landholdings fall in the small and marginal categories. How and where are they going to use credit cards or what relationship do they have with grain mandis or cold storages or godowns? The people who produce surplus foodgrain and sell a 100 truckloads of sugarcane are Dalit "prosecutors number one". Then, why should the State dole out such huge sums of money to these people?

About the corporate houses, no language has the right words to describe their greed, guile and cunning. They want support from the State but have no wish to pay taxes. Now, they even seem to be lurking around the wealth the State controls. Didn't we see them on TV telling us how, without total privatisation, India cannot prosper. They point to a few failed PSUs and sing about the glory of private enterprise.

What has been happening since independence is that two powerful social blocks: landlords in the unorganised sector, with dominant upper OBC control, and corporate/business houses in the organised sector, with upper caste control, have been plundering the nation's wealth. The middle classes also get their cut but the Dalits remain excluded.

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