Arindam Chaudhuri
RENEWING INDIA: Let caste/community divide disappear a divine disappear a divine decade: 2005-2015
[October, 2005]

Paswanji is counting on 'MD' vote bank. M stands for Muslims, 'D' for Dalits. Lalooji, the other messiah from Bihar, has visibly contributed to the 'removal' of poverty of Indian masses by reducing the price of railway tickets by one rupee per trip and announcing a job for every departed soul's family dying in railway accidents, without of course caring to overhaul the signaling and safety systems, which need much more funds (estimated to be Rs. 17,000 Cr). Lalooji has forged the unity between Muslims and Yadavs resulting in 'MY' vote bank, enabling him to 'rule' Bihar for 15 years. For winning the Muslim masses, they go to the extent of using Bin Laden's look-alike, thereby insulting not only the peace-loving Muslims of India but also making a hero out of the most despised terrorist.

While Paswanji's prominent followers (he has to intensively search for them in every Bihar jail, as alleged by Lalooji), want to see him as Prime Minister and no less, he does not aspire for the lowly post of Chief Minister of Bihar. Paswanji wants to award this post to a Muslim candidate. Lalooji is also an aspirant for PM's post, yet having tested the Chief Minister's privileges directly for eight years and indirectly for another seven years, by having installed Rabri Devi, his wife, in the post, he is not at all averse to Chief Minister-ship of Bihar. That however allows Paswanji to out-compete him for Muslim vote bank, because Lalooji cannot afford to demand a Muslim as Chief Minister!

Indians divided into castes and communities are victims of machinations of our 'great' leaders, who are basically casteists and communalists, though each one of them claims that he is the 'topmost secularist' in the country. It is of course clear that a Muslim Chief Minister is not in any way able to mitigate the hardship of the Muslim poor, as has already been seen in some of the states (for example, Abdul Gafoor, who was Chief Minister of Bihar between 1973-75 is not known for any extraordinary contribution to mitigate poverty amongst poor Muslims). Similarly, the only Dalit Chief Minister from UP has not done much for the Dalits except decorating few parks with Ambedkar statues. The same lady is now probably planning to get 'Mayawati Temples' erected in every Dalit habitations, as she has repetitively claimed herself to be the 'living goddess'!

If 17% of Indians are dying before they attain the age of 40, it is not difficult to guess who these 17% Indians are. Obviously, these poor Indians mostly belong to the Dalits (and tribals who live in the plains of India) and the poor Muslim families, barring a few millions of high caste Hindus, who also die an untimely death because of poverty.

Is there a way out?? Must the Dalits and the Muslims forever remain condemned to discriminatory social norms? Can we do something by planning the expenses to be budgeted for Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme in a way that apart from adding additional income to poor rural families we can make use of this scheme to mitigate the fate of the Dalits (excluding creamy-layers among them having high incomes and enjoying government service quotas for generations) and the poor minority community families (the most prominent among them is of course the Muslims)? We suggest devoting a major part of the expenditure to be incurred in the habitations where Dalits and these minority community families live in villages. We have calculated that about 50 million Dalits and families belonging to minority communities live in 6 lakh villages in India. Out of 220 families in an average village, around 80 families are Dalits and from the minority communities. We can target these groups while allocating funds to be spent in villages.

If we give the responsibility of spending this fund to the Panchayats, chances are that the money will be spent in the relatively affluent areas in the villages. Chandrababu Naidu, the former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, used to advocate allocation of budget habitation-wise and not village-wise. The fact remains that Indian villages are divided into areas where one or the other caste dominate or live together. The same is true about the Muslim population. This habit of living separately gives rise to caste / community vote bank. In the short run, we may not be able to make people of different castes and communities to live together in one area, but we may be able to blur the existing economic disparities between habitations of different castes and communities. To achieve this, it will be necessary to allocate relatively more funds to poorer habitations.

The implementation of Rural Employment Guarantee Schemes has already started in 150 poorest districts in the first phase. All 600 districts in India will be covered in the next 4 years. The expenditure may thus increase from present level of around Rs. 10,000 Cr to Rs. 40,000 Cr by 2010. The government thus has to budget for a total sum of Rs. 125,000 Cr in the next 5 years directly for payment of wages at Rs. 60 per day for 100 days a year per rural family. Considering the inflation and normal increase in allocation of fund from one 5-year plan to the next 5-year plan, we may safely assume that between 2010 to 2015, another Rs. 275,000 Cr would be spent for the same purpose. In all, the government would spend Rs. 400,000 Cr in the next 10 years. If we assume that it is necessary to spend another additional 50% to provide for materials and equipments so that people so employed can be involved for asset creation, total amount involved would come to Rs. 600,000 Cr.

It has already been foreseen that money would be spent for water conservation, water shed development, drought or flood proofing, forestry, land development, rural connectivity, etc. We suggest that 30% of the total available fund be allotted to these programs and mainly utilized for lower middle class rural families. The other 70% of the fund, i.e., Rs. 420,000 Cr be spent in habitations predominantly inhabited by Dalits and the minority communities and in implementing special programs offering their children educational facilities comparable with children of the upper caste families. Additionally, a comprehensive health insurance cover (inclusive of operation cost) for the rural Dalit and poor minority families can also be provided. For these purposes, we have worked out the following 7-point programs:

Employment: Applying incremental capital output ratio (ICOR) prevailing in agriculture, forestry, fishery, poultry and related areas, Rs. 22,500 per person are required to be invested to create one job in a rural area. This amount will produce a net output of Rs. 30,000 per annum. This will make it possible to pay Rs. 18,000 per annum as wages, Rs. 4,500 per annum allocated towards managerial expenditures and Rs. 7,500 per annum as additional investment fund. Such a production-investment cycle will ensure 10% increase in wages from year to year, thus enabling doubling of the wage every 7th year. Therefore, if we plan to provide at least one job to each of these 50 million families of Dalits and Muslims in rural India, Rs. 112,500 Cr will be required.

Housing: A house of the standard of Indira Awas Yojana costs around Rs. 25,000 per unit. Therefore, another Rs. 125,000 Cr would be required to provide house to each Dalit and Muslim family.

Electricity: A diesel engine generated electricity can also be provided at Rs. 7,000 per family, assuming that if two 60W bulbs are to be provided in each housing unit, which will give light for 4 hours a day during the night. For this, Rs. 35,000 Cr will be required.

Road infrastructure: One kilometer powdered red brick road (moram) through each of the villages with 40 houses situated on each side of the road, at Rs. 50,000 per kilometer, will cost Rs. 3,000 Cr.

Drinking water: Two tube wells for drinking water in this habitation at Rs. 20,000 per tube well, will cost another Rs. 3,000 Cr.

Education: IIPM research team has estimated that if 20% of the top meritorious students from Dalit and Muslim families of each village are put in a boarding school with a room teacher for a group of 10 students each and a private tutor is provided for every 10 students for the remaining 80% children, this would cost around Rs. 121,000 Cr. (It has been assumed that a private tutor or a room tutor in a boarding school would cost Rs. 2000 per month and the boarding and lodging cost would be Rs. 600 per student per month).

Comprehensive Health Insurance Cover: Health insurance cover, including cost of operation, costs Rs. 7.50 per month per person or Rs. 450 per annum per family (Dr. Debi Shetty has offered this scheme in villages of Karnataka). If we offer the same health insurance cover to all the Dalit and Muslim families, this will cost us Rs. 2,250 Cr per annum or Rs. 20,250 Cr for the next nine years.

Therefore, the above 7-point program involves a total cost of Rs. 419,750 Cr, within the estimated Rs. 420,000 Cr which we have at our disposal.

In the program outlined above, we have thus been able to provide a house with electricity to each Dalit and minority community family in addition to a job which will enable a family to add at least Rs. 1500 to the family income. Incremental investment per person has been so provided that an annual increase of 10% in wages, doubling the income every 7th year, is also possible. We have of course the option not to spend all the money in wage increases but to keep a part of the money to be invested in community facilities as they do in China in areas around town and village industries (TVA).

The program we have outlined above will transform the rural society beyond recognition by changing the rural environment radically. If economic status of the Dalits and poor minority families are changed, we have contributed to an immense extent to uproot the basis for caste/community discrimination. We can then truly describe the decade 2005-2015 as the Divine Decade.
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