Many countries, including India, pursue a policy of affirmative action to ensure that members of disadvantaged groups get enough opportunities and support to achieve their goals. In keeping with this spirit, the Cabinet on Wednesday approved the enhancement of the authorised share capital of the National Scheduled Castes Finance and Development Corporation (NSFDC) from Rs 1,000 crore to Rs 1,200 crore. This will enable the NSFDC to increase disbursements of funds to more Dalit borrowers, who often don’t get enough credit to start their businesses. This move comes on the heels of the announcement of the ‘Stand-up India’ programme that aims at promoting entrepreneurship among 250,000 scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and women.
Despite legal safeguards and affirmative action, Dalits still face discrimination and biases. The recent suicide of PhD scholar Rohith Vemula at the Hyderabad Central University and the explosive note that he left behind only shows the scale of challenge that people with his kind of background continue to face in India. Even those who manage to cross those hurdles and become entrepreneurs face a different set of challenges. While access to credit is not that big a problem, the main hurdle is the gap that exists between what is allocated and what reaches the beneficiaries since there is often diversion of funds meant for specific social groups. Even if they get the capital, there is always the difficulty in securing land and providing collateral security for bank loans.
The decision to hike the authorised share capital in NSFDC is a sound move. It comes at a time when the Vemula case has damaged the BJP, especially ahead of elections in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Punjab which have a sizeable chunk of Dalit population. But while affirmative action for budding entrepreneurs of the nature that the government has envisaged is required, it must ensure that the road to becoming an entrepreneur is cleared of biases. As a starter, this means accepting and understanding what Vemula tried to say in his last letter that the biases are deep rooted, pervasive and in many cases, sanctioned by those in positions of power.