Finance minister P Chidambaram's emphasis on the welfare and progress of the scheduled castes (SC) and scheduled tribes (ST) in his budget speech on Thursday drew mixed reactions.
"I share the concerns of members that adequate funds must be provided for programmes that benefit SC/STs….I have tried to meet these concerns as fully as possible," Chidambaram said. He proposed "to allocate Rs. 41,561 crore to the SC sub-plan and Rs. 24,598 crore to the tribal sub-plans. The total represents an increase of 12.5% over the budget estimate".
He also made it clear that the funds would not be allowed to be diverted and would have to be spent only on SCs/STs welfare.
The announcement, welcomed by the Congress's Dalit MPs, also drew appreciation from social workers, but the Bahujan Samaj Party, which claims to represent the weaker sections, was unimpressed.
Party chief Mayawati said despite large allocations for the SC/STs in every budget, the money had done little to improve the lives of the people.
"Had this amount been spent on lower castes, their plight would have improved," she said.
But, Dalit writer and thinker Prof Chandra Bhan Prasad said it was a good move. "Even if the announcement has come when the elections are about a year away, I feel that it is a part of the political process. But what is important is that once an allocation is announced, it has to be provided for since it is a promise made in Parliament," he said.