People’s Action for Rural Awakening (PARA), Ravulapalem, is completing 100 seasons or 25 years of its service committed to the empowerment of Dalits. What better way to celebrate this than to bring to the awareness of the public the latest and yet the most ingenious law enacted so far to ensure that the dalits definitely cross the threshold of development? This was the simple logic behind the organisation of the workshop on the Andhra Pradesh SC/ST Sub-Plan Act 2013, a unique law in India.
PARA, started in the aftermath of the Godavari floods of 1986, worked for the empowerment of dalits who were the most affected. This workshop, while commemorating 25 years of this work, seeks to get the people involve actively in this new possibility for the future development of dalits. The enthusiasm of the participants was evident already from the turnout of 110 dalit leaders, whereas only around 50 were expected. The programme began on schedule and ended with an enthusiastic and elaborate action plan. These different dalit organisations and leaders acknowledge the leadership and support that they received from PARA and its founder-director Fr. Thomas Pallithanam.
Dalit leaders from the State gave the input sessions and moderated the discussions. The Theme was introduced by Fr. Thomas Koshy SDB who is also the Chairperson of the Krishna District Child Welfare Committee. He spoke of a development plan for the dalits that goes beyond ‘Survival’ and ‘Security’ to equitable ‘Development’ and genuine ‘Participation.”
The first speaker, Mr. Chedalawada Isaac, elaborated on the history of the new legislation. The Constitution of India abolished untouchability and guaranteed Justice and equality in Section III on Fundamental Rights. But provisions for the betterment of dalits were consigned to Section IV that deals with the Directive Principles of State Policy. These provisions are not justiceable. More recently, some of these provisions are being incorporated into law, such as Right to Education, that is justiceable. Way back in 1974 Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had noticed the lacunae in the development of the Scheduled Tribes and had proposed that a portion of the national and state budgets in proportion to the ST population be set aside for their development. This provision was extended to Scheduled Castes in 1979. The violations of these provisions were common knowledge and became an issue during the recent Common Wealth Games and have remained contentious since then. On January 24, 2013, Andhra Pradesh became the first State to make this provision into a law.
Mr. Babu Rao, an Associate professor of medicine at the Osmania Medical College and Hosptial, and an active campaigner for the new law, explained the law in simple and lucid way, without any legal jargon. Mr. Leslie Martin, the Organising Secretary of the Dalit Bahujan Shramik Union explained the spirit of the law. The Sub-Plan which in Andhra Pradesh is 16.2% of the budget for SCs and 6.6% for STs is in addition to all the existing schemes. Development plan for the dalits that will ensue is meant to help dalits, individuals, families and communities, to cross the barriers to their development that have kept them marginalised as a people till now. The dalits will not have to be struggling for basic needs anymore.
Mr. Penki Chitti Babu, a committed union leader and activist, spoke of organising people to get the maximum benefit from the implementation of the new law. If real change has to take place, the people in their habitats need to be organised to participate in the planning, implementation and monitoring of what happens to Rs. 8585 crores of the SC Sub-Plan and Rs. 3607crores of the ST Sub-Plan this year. If this Sub-Plan law is implemented in its true spirit, the dalits will achieve within the period of limitation of 10 years of the Sub-Plan Act 2013 what did not materialise in sixty six years of independence and twelve 5-year plans.
Fr. John Tharakan sdb