The cash-strapped State government is making attempts to divert funds set aside for the welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for infrastructure works. Despite objections from within the BJP and the Opposition Congress, the full funds allocated to four major departments by the Social Welfare Department this financial year may end up being utilised for this purpose.
A sum of ₹5,170 crore was sought to be diverted to works other than SC/ST welfare citing a ‘deemed expenditure’ clause. While provisions of the Karnataka Scheduled Castes Sub Allocation and Tribal Sub Plan (Planning, Allocation and Utilisation of Resources) Act, 2013, do not allow bulk transfer of allocations, the Finance Department has told the Social Welfare Department to transfer the full allocation made in four major departments for the welfare of SC/ST people, officials said.
From its allocation of ₹26,614.69 crore in the 2020–21 budget, the Social Welfare Department has sub-allocated ₹5,170 crore for the welfare of SC/ST people in these four departments. This comes from Water Resources Department (₹2,035.89 crore), Public Works Department (₹1,427.97 crore), Urban Development Department (₹1,341.97 crore), and Minor Irrigation Department (₹364 crore).
The issue turned into a heated discussion in the Legislative Assembly in the recently concluded winter session where members from both the BJP and the Congress objected to diversion of funds meant for SC/ST welfare, and criticised Social Welfare Minister B. Sriramulu for justifying the diversion under ‘deemed expenditure’ clause. The Minister had withdrawn his statement later.
The Finance Department informed the Social Welfare Department that the Chief Minister’s permission has been taken to consider this as ‘deemed expenditure’ since there is a severe shortage of resources owing to COVID-19. Funds earmarked for the four departments will be taken as ‘deemed expenditure’ to make bill payment. The instruction to the Social Welfare Department, sources said, came through an unofficial note from the Finance Department. It had asked the Social Welfare Department to consider the full allocation to these four departments as ‘deemed expenditure’.
However, the Social Welfare Department has refused to consider the letter, and pointed to violation of the Act. Sources in the department said they had opposed it, but acknowledged that there have been serious attempts to divert funds. “The department is insisting that if infrastructure projects have to be funded, then the cost can be borne in proportion to the SC or ST population in the area. It has been conveyed to the Finance Department multiple times that bulk allocation is not possible,” a source said.
A senior government official pointed out that section 7 (D) of the Act states that in the non-divisible projects where it is not possible to identify how many SC/ST people benefited, only a portion of the project amount can be provided, and whole allocation cannot be considered as ‘deemed expenditure’. Meanwhile, an office-bearer of the Government SC/ST Employees’ Association said that action should be initiated against officials who suggested this measure in violation of the Act.