The Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment implements the inter-caste marriage incentive scheme to promote inter-caste marriages where one of the spouses is a Scheduled Caste. From 2013-14 to 2019-20, a total of 1.2 lakh couples have received incentives under this scheme. Here is a review of the scheme & its implementation.
The caste system is perhaps India’s longest surviving social hierarchy which continues to plague the world’s largest democracy. It is deep-rooted and influences social, economic, and political life. Multiple legislations including schemes and policies have been rolled out by governments at central and state levels to eradicate caste-based discrimination & increase intermingling of castes. One such measure is promoting inter-caste marriages by providing financial assistance to couples marrying outside caste and those belonging to Scheduled Castes (SCs). Inter-caste marriages are sanctioned by Special Marriage Act, 1954 and the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.
Financial assistance of Rs. 2.5 Lakhs is provided to inter-caste couples where one of the spouses belongs to SCs
Central assistance is released to states and UTs by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment under the Centrally Sponsored Scheme of providing an incentive for inter-caste marriages where one of the spouses is a member of a Scheduled Caste. This scheme is a part of the implementation of the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 and the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of atrocities) Act, 1989. Until 2016-17, the state governments could decide the quantum of incentive which ranged from Rs.10,000 to Rs. 5 Lakh. In 2017, the Ministry amended the scheme to make the incentive uniform across all states/UTs. The one-time incentive was fixed at Rs. 2.5 Lakh. The amount would be transferred by the concerned authority into a fixed deposit account jointly held by the couple (the first name should be of the woman) in a government/nationalized bank. The lock-in period for the same is three years and it cannot be withdrawn before maturity. Though the expenditure is shared 50:50 between the Centre and State, expenditure in addition to the fixed Rs. 2.5 Lakhs for incentive should be borne by the state. The same is applicable for UTs as well where up to Rs. 2.5 Lakhs is fully covered by the Centre. The application for the incentive under this scheme has to be made to the relevant state government as per the process prescribed.
The data used in the story has been compiled from the annual reports of the Ministry.
Rs. 157 crores have been released to states in 2019-20
In 2013-14, the centre released an amount of Rs. 29.71 crores to states for extending incentive to inter-caste marriages. The amount released has since then quadrupled to Rs. 121.89 crores in 2018-19. For 2019-20, the amount released was Rs. 157.05 crores excluding the amount to be released for states and UTs which had not submitted their proposal.
Number of Beneficiaries has dropped in 2018-19
The number of couples where one of the spouses belongs to Scheduled Caste, who have benefitted from this scheme has dropped in the last two years. The scheme had only about 11,786 beneficiary couples in 2013-14 which increased consistently and crossed 15,000 in 2014-15 and 20,000 in 2017-18. However, the number dropped to around 19,000 in 2018-19 and had covered nearly 18,000 couples as of 31 December 2019 for 2019-20.
Karnataka and Maharashtra received more than 40% of the funds released under this scheme
Between 2013-14 and 2019-20, a total of Rs. 534.2 crores have been released to 24 States/UTs. The amount has not been released to all these states/UTs in all seven years. Allocation of funds under the scheme is done as per the proposal submitted by states/UTs. It also depends on the utilization of the funds. In other words, the more couples apply under the scheme and receive incentives from a state, the more funds a state can apply for.
In these seven years, Maharashtra received Rs.110.97 crores, the highest for any state. Up to 2017-18, Maharashtra received the highest amount every year. However, in 2018-19 and 2019-20, Karnataka overtook Maharashtra. Karnataka has so far received Rs.110.85 crores. These are the only two states to have received more than Rs.100 crores each under this scheme and together, they account for 41.5% of the total amount released by the Centre under this scheme. Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat have received more than Rs. 25 crores each. Bihar received Rs. 7.5 crore in 2013-14 and Rs. 1 crore in 2014-15 and has seen no allocation since.
More than half the beneficiaries are from three states
Over 1.2 Lakh couples have benefitted from the scheme in the last seven years. Nearly 52% of them are from the three states- Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu. Besides being the state that has received the maximum amount under this scheme, Maharashtra also has the greatest number of beneficiaries (more than 26,000 couples). Karnataka has over 22,000 beneficiaries while Tamil Nadu and Kerala have more than 13,000 and nearly 10,000 beneficiaries respectively. Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and West Bengal have more than 5000 beneficiaries each. Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh are the two major states that have witnessed a steady growth in the number of beneficiaries over the years. In Karnataka, the number of beneficiaries has gone up 4.5 times between 2014-15 & 2019-20 while in MP the same has gone up 2.5 times during the same period. However, in Maharashtra, the number of beneficiaries has dropped from about 5000 in 2013-14 to just around 1710 in 2019-20.
Dr. Ambedkar Scheme for Social Integration was launched in 2013
In addition to the Centrally Sponsored Scheme discussed earlier, ‘Dr. Ambedkar Scheme for Social Integration through Inter-Caste Marriages’ is another dedicated central scheme for encouraging inter-caste marriages supervised by the Dr. Ambedkar Foundation, an autonomous body under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. The foundation administers schemes and programs for the welfare of persons belonging to SCs. The objective of the Inter-Caste marriage scheme of the foundation is ‘to appreciate the, socially bold step of an Inter Caste marriage, taken by the newly married couple and to extend the financial incentive to the couple to enable them to settle down in the initial phase of their married life’.
Application should be submitted within one year of marriage to avail the scheme
Under this scheme, a couple where one of the spouses belongs to SC and the other belongs to non-SC are eligible to avail of the financial assistance of Rs. 2.5 Lakh. However, the application should be submitted within one year of marriage and it should be their first marriage. If the couple qualifies the stipulated criteria, the duo can submit a proposal in the given format to the foundation along with necessary documents such as caste certificates, ID proofs, and proof of marriage. The application has to be accompanied by a recommendation from the District Magistrate, District Collector/Deputy Commissioner/ Social Welfare Department of the State/UT.
These applications are then scrutinized and if they meet the mandatory requirements of the scheme, the proposals are processed for approval and release of incentive. If the couple has already availed the benefits of other schemes serving the same purpose, then only an adjusted amount will be released to the couple. For those whose applications are accepted, an amount of Rs. 1.5 Lakh is released to the couple’s joint account and the remaining Rs.1 Lakh will be deposited as FD for three years. Upon maturity, the couple will get the amount along with the interest accrued.
In addition to the incentive amount to the couple, the scheme also has a provision of providing Rs. 25,000 per inter-caste marriage to the district authorities so that they can organize a benefitting program to publicize the marriage. The incentive could also be handed over to the couple in this program.
Not enough takers for the scheme in spite of relaxations
The scheme was initially introduced on a pilot basis for two years in 2013-14. Since then, it has been continued as a regular scheme. When the scheme was introduced, the initial target was to cover 500 marriages each year. However, from 2015-16 to 2019-20, only a total of 488 couples had benefitted from the scheme (as of 31 December 2019). Between 1 April 2019 and 20 November 2019, a total of 1079 proposals were received by Dr. Ambedkar Foundation. Only 111 applications were approved in 2019 for 2019-20.
As a result of stringent norms and lack of awareness, it is seen that the scheme clearly has not achieved its target despite a high amount of incentive. The foundation removed the income ceiling of Rs. 5 Lakhs per annum which would make more people eligible for the scheme. Nonetheless, there has been no significant improvement in the number of beneficiaries though the number of applications has doubled in the last two years.
State governments also have schemes to promote inter-caste marriage
Apart from these, there are similar schemes being implemented by states. For instance, Karnataka’s Social Welfare Department offers incentives of Rs. 2.5 Lakhs for men and Rs. 3 Lakhs for women for Hindu couples where either of the spouses belongs to SC in Karnataka and their annual family income is below Rs. 5 Lakhs. In Tamil Nadu, Dr.Muthulakshmi Reddy Ninaivu Inter-Caste Marriage Assistance Scheme is being implemented to benefit inter-caste couples. Under this scheme, assistance ranging from Rs.25,000 to Rs.50,000 is provided to couples on the basis of educational qualification irrespective of income. The Odisha government recently launched the Sumangal portal for inter-caste couples to get incentives within 60 days of application.
Multiple issues raised in courts regarding implementation of Dr. Ambedkar Scheme
The issue of inter-caste marriage and subsequent benefits under the scheme have been discussed in the courts multiple times. Recently, the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court noted that an application has been kept pending since 2017 alleging some lacunae in the documentation. The application was submitted by T Murugesh in 2017. It directed the state government to provide the community certificate at the earliest.
Another case heard by the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court was regarding the rejection of applications by the foundation of three couples from different parts of Tamil Nadu. The foundation rejected the applications on grounds that the marriages were not registered under Hindu Marriage Act. The High Court ruled that the state registration of marriage act was sufficient for disbursal of incentives.
Data on Inter-Caste marriages is not available
While inter-caste marriages are a pivotal step forward to promote intermingling, there is not any definite data on the number of inter-marriages in the country. Such marriages should be promoted, and data made available if the trend of inter-caste marriages has to pick up.