The Government of India has incorporated some special provisions in its Constitution for the removal of untouchability and to promote the welfare of SCs and STs. The Constitution ensures the protection and assures the promotion of interests of SCs, STs and other weaker sections of the population in the fields such as (1) political representation, (2) representation in services, (3) economic development, (4) socio-cultural safeguards and (5) legal support.
1. The Preamble of the Constitution of India declares that it assures equality, promotes fraternity, guarantees liberty and ensures justice to one and all.
2. Articles 15,16,17,38 and 46 guarantee that the state shall not discriminate between persons on account of their religion or region and caste or class.
3. Article 15 prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, caste, race, sex or place of birth.
4. Article 17 abolishes untouchability. It is further provided that the enforcement of any disability arising out of untouchability shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law.
5. Article 46 promotes educational and economic interests of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and other weaker sections.
6. Article 330 reserves representation for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the House of the People.
7. Article 334 relates to reservation of seats and special representation to cease after fifty years [Originally reservation was made for ten years and it was extended four times, the present period of expiry being 2000 A.D.)
8. Article 335 mentions the claims of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes to services and posts.
9. Article 338 empowers the Central Govt. to appoint a National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
10. Article 339 empowers the President to appoint a Commission to report on the administration of the Scheduled Areas and the welfare of Scheduled Tribes in the States.
11. Article 341 empowers the President to specify the castes, races or tribes deemed as Scheduled Castes in a particular State or Union territory.
12. Article 342 empowers the President to specify the tribes or tribal communities deemed to be Scheduled Tribes in a particular State or Union terriroty.
i. Legislative Measures For the Removal of Untouchability:
The Government has been taking up the required legislative measures for the removal of untouchability. In pursuance of the provision of the Article 17 of the Constitution which declares the practice of untouchability a punishable offence, the Parliament passed the Untouchability Offences Act, 1955. It was later substituted by the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1976. According to this Act the offences of untouchability include the following.
ii. Offences of Untouchability as per the “Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1976”:
(i) Committing any kind of social injustice, such as denying access to any shop, restaurant, public hospital, educational institution or any place of public entertainment.
(ii) Preventing a person, on the grounds of untouchability, from entering a place of worship and offering prayers, or from drinking water from a public well or spring.
(iii) Refusal to sell goods or render services to a person on the grounds of untouchability is an offence punishable with imprisonment for six months or a fine upto Rs. 500 or both.
(iv) Enforcing occupational, professional, trade disabilities in the matter of enjoyment of any benefit under a charitable trust, etc.
B. Other Welfare Measures and Programmes for the Upliftment of Scheduled Castes:
1. Appointment of a National Commission for the Welfare of Scheduled Castes:
A National Commission for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes has been set up by the Central Government to safeguard the interests of the SCs and STs. It functions as an advisory body on issue and policies related to the development of the SCs and STs. The State Governments have separate departments to look after the welfare of the SCs and STs. Their administrative set up varies from state to state.
2. Educational Opportunities:
Due attention is paid to extend the educational opportunities of SCs and STs and hence special provisions have been made in this regard. Free education, free distribution of books, stationery, uniform etc. giving scholarships, banking loan facilities, providing mid-day meal, arranging for free boarding and lodging facilities, reserving seats for SCs and STs in all the government and government aided institutions, etc. are some of the concrete steps which the Government has taken in this regard.
i. Centrally Sponsored Schemes:
In addition to the above, there are some centrally sponsored schemes also for the educational benefit of both SCs and STs.
(i) Free coaching and training for various competitive examinations [IAS, IPS, IFS, etc.] to increase their representation in various services,
(ii) Post-matric scholarships for providing financial assistance for higher education. [Govt. spent 66.5 crore rupees for this purpose in the year 1993-94. The University Grants Commission [U.G.C.] and the Ministry of Education had earmarked 15% of their budget for this purpose during the 6th plan – 1980-85],
(iii) Construction of hostels for providing residential facilities to SCs and STs studying at college and university level,
(iv) Financial assistance to those SC and ST students going to reputed research institutes for research work,
(v) Providing Text-books to those studying in medical and engineering courses,
(vi) Scholarships and passage grants for higher education outside India.
3. Expansion of Economic Opportunities:
Government has taken up economic programmes also for the benefit of SCs and STs. Examples: Landless SC labourers are allotted land. Land reforms have been undertaken to bring benefits of land ownership for them.
Poor SC farmers are supplied with seeds, agriculture implements, fertilizers, pesticides, interest-free loans, pair of bullocks for ploughing, subsidy for developing dairy farming, poultry farming, piggery, animal husbandry, handicrafts, spinning and weaving.
The “loan-mela” programme of Rajiv Gandhi Govt. [1984-89] also provided small loans for the poorer section to help them to earn money through some secondary sources such as toy-making, basket-making, agarbatti and beedi-rolling, tailoring, shoe- making, etc.
4. Expansion of Employment Opportunities and Reservation:
In order to enhance the economic position of the SCs and STs the Constitution has provided for the reservation in services. Reservation of jobs operates in the all-India Services, Central Government, State Governments, and Government owned and managed public sector units and institutions.
Reservation exists in all these for the SCs and STs to the tune of 15% and 7.5% respectively. Several State Governments have introduced reservation for OBC’s (Other Backward Classes) also.
In government services, special quotas are also allotted to them. The reservations are also extended to promotions’ to higher positions to facilitate their adequate representation. Concessions such as relaxation in the standards of suitability, relaxation of the qualification and experience, have also been provided to them.
“The Supreme Court in its recent judgement on the reservation issue on Nov. 15th, 1992 adjudicated that there can be no reservations in promotions but the Central Government decided to continue them for some time. The Supreme Court also declared that reservation in certain technical posts like scientific departments, super-specialties in medicine, engineering and defence research, professors in education, pilots in Indian Airlines/Air India, etc. is not advisable.”
5. Upliftment of Scheduled Castes through Five-Year Plans:
The welfare of the Scheduled the special programmes has been increasing from plan to plan. The expenditure of Rs. 30.04 crore in the First Plan [1951-56] increased to Rs. 79.41 crore in the Second Plan [1956-61], Rs. 100.40 crore in the Third Plan [1961-66], Rs. 172.70 crore in the Fourth Plan [1969-74], Rs. 296.19 crore in the Fifth Plan [1974-79], Rs. 1337.21 crores in the Sixth Plan [1980-85], and Rs. 1521.42 crore in the Seventh Plan [1985-90]. The State Governments have also been spending a sizeable amount on the welfare of these people.
Development Strategies in the Five-Year Plans:
The Central Government sponsored a comprehensive three-pronged strategy for the development of the SCs during the Sixth Five Year Plan [1980-85], this consisted of three schemes, (i) special Component Plan [SCPs] of the Central Ministries and State Governments, (ii) Special Central Assistance [SCA] to SCPs for the Scheduled Castes of the States and (iii) Scheduled Caste Development Corporation [SCDCs] in the States.
(i) Special Component Plan [SCP]:
The main objective of this plan is to assist the SC families to substantially improve their income. This plan envisages identification of schemes of development which would benefit SCs, quantification of funds from all programmes and determination of specific targets as to the number of families to be benefited from these programmes. During the Sixth Plan [1980-85] Rs. 4,481 crore were earmarked for the SCPs. Till the year 1990 only eight central ministries had formulated the SCPs for the SCs.
(ii) Special Central Assistance [SCA]:
The main purpose of this scheme is to provide additional assistance to the States from the Centre to help the economic advancement of the maximum possible number of Schedules Caste families living below the poverty line. This assistance is given through the SCPs. During the Sixth Plan Rs. 600 crore was earmarked for this purpose. Later, in 1993, in one year, about Rs. 273 crore was provided as SCA.
(iii) Scheduled Caste Development Corporation [SCDC]:
The SCDCs have been set up in 18 states and 3 union territories. These SCDCs provide money and loan assistance to these families, thereby helping to increase the flow of funds from financial institutions to SC families.
These Corporations established in the States are expected to interface between the SC families and financial institutions including banks. Both the Central and the State Governments are contributing grants to these SCDCs. For example, the State Governments’ contribution in 1989-90 was Rs. 19 crore and the Central Government’s Rs. 15 crore.
The Corporation also provides loan to the SC family’s upto Rs. 12,000. They not only arrange to provide financial assistance for occupations like agriculture, animal husbandry and household industry but also for small shops, industries, auto-rickshaws and many other trades and professions, Some corporations also arrange for irrigation facilities like digging wells and tubewells.
5. Other Welfare Programmes:
(i) Drinking Water Facility:
In SCs colonies and in the areas where they are found in large number, drinking water facility is provided through the construction of wells and borewells.
(ii) Medical Facility:
Free medical check-up facility is provided for the SCs. Those who undergo family planning operations are given financial assistance for purchasing required medicine and energising tonic.
(iii) Janata Houses:
In various States the SCs are given financial assistance to have their own houses. In Sates like Karnataka and Tamil Nadu low caste houses having all minimum required facilities, known as “janata” houses are built for them at State expenses.
(iv) Liberation of Bonded Labourers:
A large number of bonded labourers particularly belonging to the SCs have been liberated. As per the report of the labour Department of the Central Government in 1983 about 1.13 lakh bonded labourers [out of a total of 1.61 lakh] were liberated from their bondage with the Governmental assistance.
(v) Sulab Sauchalaya Scheme:
This has been launched in several States for converting dry latrines into water-borne latrines in order to liberate SC scavengers and rehabilitate them in alternative occupations.
6. Voluntary Organisations:
In addition to the Governmental schemes and instruments, some of the voluntary organisations are also playing an important role in promoting the welfare of the SCs.
(i) Harijan Sevak Sangh [New Delhi],
(ii) Indian Depressed Classes League [New Delhi],
(iii) Hind Sweepers Sevak Sangh [Delhi],
(iv) Servants of Indian Society [Poona],
(v) Indian Red Cross Society [New Delhi, “Ishwara Sharana Ashrama “, Allahabad,
(vi) Sri Ramakrishna Mission [Narendrapura, West Bengal].
The Central Government has been giving financial assistance to these organisations for their Harijan Welfare activities. In 1994, the Govt. spent about Rs. 6.5 crore for giving such assistance.
Some other organisations which are not getting any financial help from the Government are also rendering Yeomen service to the Scheduled Castes.
“Hindus Seva Prathisthana”, “Vishwa Hindu Parishad”, the service units of Rashtreeya Swayam Sevak Sangha, “Dalit Organisations” and a number of Christian Missionary Organisations.