The Ministry of Social Justice implements more than 20 schemes for the welfare of Scheduled Castes, Other Backward Classes, Persons with Disabilities, Senior Citizens, Victims of Substance Abuse, Transgender persons, and other marginalized groups. Here is a review of the schemes’ budget allocation & utilization.
The social security legislations in India derive their strength and spirit from the ‘Directive Principles of the State Policy’ as contained in the Constitution of India. The State and Central Governments have initiated a plethora of social protection and welfare schemes to provide social security to disadvantaged/underprivileged citizens. Through such programmes and schemes, the State aids individuals, and families in need for education, unemployment compensation, skill development, healthcare, etc. which help in bringing social and economic development of people from disadvantaged castes and the economically vulnerable category. Such schemes extend support and improve their standard of living and provide them with equal opportunities.
Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment implements social welfare schemes for the social, educational, and economic development of the marginalized
The Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment is entrusted with the task of empowerment of the disadvantaged and marginalized sections of society. The target groups of the Ministry include Scheduled Castes, Other Backward Classes, Persons with Disabilities, Senior Citizens, Victims of Substance Abuse, Transgender persons, and beggars. The Ministry has been implementing various programmes/schemes for the social, educational, and economic development of the target groups. Recently, in a written reply to a question in the Lok Sabha, the Ministry presented details of the quantum of funds allocated and utilized across 25 schemes during the last three years for the progress of SC, OBCs, Senior Citizens and other marginalized communities.
A large portion of budget allocation is towards ‘Student Scholarships’
Of the 25 schemes, 11 are fellowships and scholarships for students. The lion’s share of budget allocation among the social welfare schemes is for scholarships. The total allocation for the 25 schemes was over Rs. 9,428 crores in 2018-19, Rs. 8,152 crores in 2019-20, and Rs. 7,958 crores in 2020-21. The allocation for the 11 scholarships alone accounted for 80% (Rs. 7,587 crores), 62% (Rs. 5,075 crores), and 77% (Rs. 6,102 crores) of the total allocation to the 25 schemes in the three years of 2018-19, 2019-20 and 2020-21 respectively.
The allocation for five other education-related and skill development schemes has gone up from Rs. 117 crores in 2018-19 to Rs. 180 crores in 2020-21. Allocation for the remaining 9 schemes such as that for transgender persons, senior citizens, rural development, and manual scavengers was Rs. 1,723 crores in 2018-19 which increased to Rs. 2,931 crores in 2019-20 and decreased to Rs. 1,675 crores in 2020-21.
The fund utilization in schemes for social defence for 2020-21 was 92% and that for Education, Hostel, and Skill development was 82% in 2019-20. For the remaining scheme types, the utilization has been above 98% for all three years.
48% of the budget allocated for social welfare schemes in 2020-21 was for post-matric scholarships for SC students
Students from different backgrounds are encouraged to pursue their education at different levels like post-matric, pre-matric and abroad through financial grants. Among these, the budget allocation is the highest for post-matric scholarships for SC students. About Rs. 3,815 crores were allocated for the scheme in 2020-21 while the expenditure was over Rs. 4,000 crores. This scholarship scheme alone accounted for 48% of the total budget allocation for these 25 schemes in 2020-21.
The allocation for the scheme was as high as Rs. 6,000 crores in 2018-19 and 99% of the same was utilized. There were over 62.37 lakh beneficiaries for the scheme in 2020-21, the highest in the past five years. The pre-matric scholarship for SC students had over 30.5 lakh beneficiaries in 2020-21 as compared to 20.2 lakh in 2016-17, despite low utilization.
Allocation for some scholarships has increased 2 to 6 times
In 2020-21, the utilization in the national fellowship for OBCs was only 73.3% of the allocated budget and 81% in the case of the pre-matric scholarship for SC students in classes IX and X. This is low compared to other scholarships where the utilization was over 90% of the allocated funds. It is also observed that in the three years, the allocation for the pre-matric scholarship to SC students has gone up 5.6 times while the same for Central Sector Scholarship of Top-Class Education for SC students and National Overseas Scholarship has doubled.
Only about 40% of funds were utilized for the free coaching scheme
With respect to the schemes related to education, such as ‘Dr. Ambedkar Loan Subsidy on Interest for Education Loans to study abroad for OBC and EBC students’, hostel construction, and skill development assistance for OBCs/DNTs/EBCs, the allocation has always been below Rs. 50 crores. The allocation for four of the seven schemes has been increased continuously in the three years.
At the same time, the utilization has been low for the free coaching scheme for OBC and SC students for competitive examinations- 44% in 2019-20 and 40% in 2020-21. Nonetheless, there has been an increase in beneficiaries from 1,296 in 2018-19 to 2,112 in 2020-21. The scheme can potentially benefit thousands more if the utilization of funds is improved.
Only 55% of funds allocated for ‘Rehabilitation for Manual Scavengers’ has been utilized in 2020-21
The allocation of other welfare schemes for social defence ranges from Rs. 30 crores allocated for the welfare of transgender persons to Rs. 600 crores allocated for ‘Implementation of the Protection of Civil Rights Act,’ in 2020-21. The utilization also ranges from 44% in the case of ‘Assistance to Voluntary Organizations for protection of SCs’ to 72% in the case of ‘PM Gramin Adarsh Yojana for rural development’, and 83%in ‘Implementation of National Plan for Drug Demand Reduction’, and 100% for ‘implementing the National Action Plan for Senior Citizens’. However, only 55% of the funds allocated for the ‘Rehabilitation scheme for Manual Scavengers’ has been utilized in 2020-21 and 77% in 2019-20 when it had nearly 16,000 beneficiaries.
Lack of awareness, poor implementation, fraudulent activities hinder the effectiveness of these schemes
There are multiple factors that affect the effectiveness of these schemes. Firstly, poor utilization of available funds limits the reach of the programs. Secondly, poor awareness of the schemes means that the intended beneficiaries do not make use of the program. Despite the availability of many schemes, information regarding these is inadequate among the target population, as evident from certain studies.
Other factors such as lack of a single-window approach to these schemes, inadequate publicity, poor literacy levels, hinder access to these welfare schemes. On the other hand, poor implementation of schemes, lack of proper scrutiny, and fraudulent activities also significantly affect the program goals. Regular audits and impact evaluation of these schemes are a must for the intended results to be achieved.
CAG’s performance audit of Post Matric Scholarship in Haryana suspected crores worth fraud through Aadhar number manipulation
According to a CAG report released in March 2021 for the year 2019-20, a performance audit of Haryana’s Post-Matric Scholarship Schemes that provide financial assistance to SC and OBC students pursuing higher studies revealed that there were deficiencies in planning and financial management, inadequate scrutiny of applications of students, irregularities in disbursement of scholarship, suspected fraudulent payment, weak monitoring mechanism, etc. The department did not evaluate the effectiveness of the schemes. Moreover, it raised suspicion that Rs. 18.98 crore worth of fraudulent payments were released by manipulating the Aadhaar numbers of students under the post-matric scholarship scheme between 2014 and 2019 in Haryana.
Lack of planning, poor financial management and irregularities in disbursement of scholarship funds in five states was highlighted by CAG
Similarly, another CAG report from 2018 which audited the performance of ‘Post Matric Scholarship Scheme for Scheduled Caste Students’ in five States of Karnataka, Maharashtra, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh between 2012 and 2017 highlighted multiple issues.
The report highlighted that there were systemic gaps in the scheme’s guidelines themselves as well as lack of planning, poor financial management and irregularities in the disbursement of scholarship funds. The total financial implication of these gaps was Rs. 581.68 crores. Further, the discrepancies and inconsistencies in data generated through the web portals with additional financial involvement of Rs. 455.98 crore pointed to the need for a thorough review of the scheme guidelines as well as its implementation to ensure that the scheme funds were not misused or diverted for other purposes.
A recent newspaper report highlighted that in Bihar, there has not been a single application in the last three years for the Centrally Sponsored ‘Post-Matric Scholarship for SC and ST students’ which the officials put the blame on “technical issues with the National Scholarship Portal”. Unless and until such issues are sorted, the intended benefits of the schemes would not materialize.
Featured Image: Social welfare schemes in India