The rural employment programme and a clutch of schemes aimed at marginalised sections, including Dalits and minorities, will have the first claim on funds under the Modi government’s national development agenda.
The decision comes at a time when the ruling BJP is desperately trying to reach out to Dalits ahead of the next year’s assembly elections in five states, including Uttar Pradesh and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat.
The cabinet on Wednesday accepted the recommendations of a panel of chief ministers set up to reduce the number of centrally sponsored schemes. The panel was led by Madhya Pradesh’s Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
The panel wants the Centre-funded schemes to be restricted to 30 to ensure better use of resources and implementation. It has divided the trimmed list into core schemes to be implemented by all states and optional schemes.
Social protection and inclusion plans will be counted as “core of the core schemes” and “be the first charge on available funds for the national development agenda”, a statement said.
The 15-year agenda that replaces five-year plans will focus on long-term development planning while reviewing and monitoring various schemes.
Welfare schemes for scheduled castes, minorities, scheduled tribes, backward classes and the disabled and old age pension and the rural employment job plan, which offers a safety net to farmer and farm labour, will be treated as core of the core.
Dalits, who form a sizable chunk of voters, have traditionally not gone with the BJP but the party is eyeing them to expand its social base.
Party chief Amit Shah shared a meal with Dalits during one of his visits to Uttar Pradesh. But self-styled cow protection activists who flogged four Dalits in Gujarat on suspicion that they killed a cow last month provoked angry reactions from the community.
The government came under renewed attack, with the opposition accusing it of launching “social terror” and falling to protect weaker sections.
Senior ministers were forced to step in. Information and broadcasting minister M Venkaiah Naidu said last week it was wrong to kill a human being on the pretext of protecting the cow. His comments reflected the unease within the party over the alienation of the community that accounts for 17% of the country’s population.
Dalits account for 21% of the population of Uttar Pradesh where the BJP is trying to wean them away from the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party. Poll-bound Punjab (32%) and Himachal Pradesh (25%) are two other states with a significant SC population.