They added that for several schemes, it seemed the government was providing “allocation for survival vs an allocation for development”.
At a press conference here on Saturday, rights activists welcomed the 35.6% and 28% increases in allocations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, respectively, in the 2019 Union budget.
The activists embraced the allocation of funds and special provisions for the rehabilitation of manual scavengers, provision of public healthcare services, the farmers’ scheme, the water initiative and the focus on a digital repository for the SC and ST cultures. However, they said that the lack of mindful planning, which would hinder the direct impact of the unparalleled declarations, was a grave matter of concern.
Economic sector schemes like the optical fibre cable network for defence services, for example, categorised under the Department of Telecommunications in both the SC and ST budgets, saw the high allocation of Rs 2,623.89 crore but has minimal impact or relevance for the communities, they said.
A more pressing issue brought up by independent expert on health and budget rights, Abhay Xaxa, was the absence of any provision for claims under the 2006 Forest Rights Act. “This year, with the Supreme Court order, we were expecting that the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, as they had promised, would take on some initiative to defend the tribal communities, but it is still not there,” he stated.
This issue stems from the Supreme Court order in February possibly evicting 11.6 million tribal Adivasi families whose claims under the act, intended to protect the rights of traditional forest-dwelling communities, were rejected. “There is no proper financial commitment for the implementation of the Forest Rights Act, not a single penny allocated to address this grim situation suggesting that the government is not serious about tribals,” said Xaxa.
Activists also criticised the budget cuts for two national tribal universities in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana from Rs 50 lakh each to Rs 7 lakh each, severely hindering the progress of education within the communities.
“How will we move forward without higher education?” Beena Pallical asked.
Pallical stated that most of the schemes reflect an “allocation for survival vs an allocation for development” and added that “we do not want to be devis, just treat us like human beings first”. She talked about the low allotment for education, health and protection of Dalit women who face “increasingly high levels of violence”.
Other issues brought to notice included the increase in privatised education and healthcare services and the lack of protection of children’s rights.
The activists stressed on the need of better planning and a more direct impact of the “archaic schemes” on the targeted beneficiaries. They said that they hoped their demands and suggestions will not be taken lightly in the revised estimate.