At a time when the nation is in a boil over the suicide of a dalit student at Hyderabad University, entrepreneurs from the community say the business environment in the country has more or less moved beyond caste.
“Caste is becoming a smaller and smaller issue in business. The business community is getting mature,” said Milind Kamble, chairman and founder, Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry, whose tagline is “Be job givers, not job seekers”, and which calls for fighting caste with capital.
The industry has, in fact, taken several initiatives to support dalit entrepreneurs, mostly first generation businessmen.
The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has an initiative for affirmative action signed by 927 companies since 2007, which calls for non-discrimination in recruitment and preference for dalit entrepreneurs while looking for business partners and procurement. However, a CII report states that between 2007 and June 2015, only 307 companies have given compliance reports on this.
“There is awareness and encouragement from the top level of the management. But the issue is that this is not percolating to the people who take decisions for procurement,” said Kamble.
Funds are another issue that noveau businessmen face.
“Money is a problem for us. We don’t have the kind of traditional networks that people in upper caste have, through which they can easily raise money,” said NK Chandan, who has been running a successful small enterprise.
The Tata Group has been procuring products such as helmets and electric meter covers from his company, Chandan & Chandan Industries, and helping him in research and development for new products as well. He says he gives a preference for dalits in hiring, as he believes the benefits of his experience should spread.
Piquantly, the situation in public sector undertakings (PSUs), which are ruled by government directives, are tardy on the front of encouraging dalit enterprise.
On April 25, 2012, the government had come up with the Public Procurement Policy for MSEs, which requires all central ministries, departments, and central PSUs to ensure that at least 20% of their sourcing would be from micro and small enterprises (MSEs), and specifically, 4% of all procurement should be from companies promoted by scheduled castes (SCs) and scheduled tribes (STs).
While the total procurement never crossed 0.5% on an average in 2012-13 and 2013-14 as per the surveys, a similar trend is seen in the PSUs data for 2014-15 seen by HT. Out of the 50 PSUs that replied to an RTI query, only 10 companies even maintained separate data for this.
However, starting April 2015, the government made it mandatory that PSUs source 4% of their procurement from dalit-run enterprises . “But unless there is a penalty for not achieving the target, they won’t do it,” said Chandan.
Kamble hopes that the new government schemes such as Startup India, Standup India, the MUDRA Bank, and Venture Capital Fund for SC entrepreneurs would help the community garner more funds to run their businesses.
According to the 2006-07 All-India MSME Census, 13.59% of the total enterprises in the country are owned by SC/ST entrepreneurs, and they generate 7.745 million jobs. The SCs and STs constitute about 25% of India’s population.