1) On the lines of SC/ST Sub-plan Act enacted in Andhra Pradesh, will you propose a similar measure by the Union Government?
The Congress is committed to bring out a Central legislation on SCSP/TSP. This is one of the commitments made in the Jaipur declaration of the party. Subsequently, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has constituted a task force committee to prepare a draft law. I was a member of the task force. A draft law has been prepared. The ministry obtained suggestions from States and Central Ministries. Necessary steps to take it forward are underway.
2) What have been the instances of diversion of funds meant for SCs/STs, whether in Central ministries or in States?
There were, no doubt, instances of diversion and there was even a big debate in Parliament when members expressed anguish over it. My own sense is that the objective of SC/ST sub-plan has not been properly understood. Everyone acknowledged that there are gaps, budgetary provisions have been made, but it has largely been reduced to an accounting exercise. What we are attempting now is to replace this with a proactive planning effort which will deal with how to address identified gaps within a specified time-frame so that accelerated development of SCs and STs can take place.
3) How soon will the Central legislation come into being?
I cannot set a time-frame because it is a matter vested with the Government of India. From the information I have, the Cabinet note in this regard is being prepared and it will then be sent to the Law department for vetting. After all the processes, it will come before Parliament for its consideration.
4) Over the years, the core vote of the Congress comprising mainly the SCs has been declining for a variety of reasons, such as in states like Uttar Pradesh. What are the steps you are contemplating to help the Congress secure the support of SCs again?
The SC Dept of AICC shall focus on 1) Strengthening the voice of SCs within the Congress party. This objective will be achieved by revitalizing the SC Committees from village to state level; nurturing leaders from among the SCs; putting in place institutional mechanisms to facilitate dialogue between the party and civil society organisations espousing the cause of SCs; 2) bring in policies, programs and legislations that seek to empower SCs apart from ensuring effective implementation of safeguards guaranteed to SCs in the Constitution and through various legislations 3) Reforming delivery of various programs so as to ensure that SCs are effectively reached.
5) Do you have any special focus/plan in mind for the SC/ST reserved Parliamentary constituencies keeping in view the 2014 elections?
Yes. The focus shall be on enhancing the confidence of SCs in the Congress party by ensuring that party apparatus, top to bottom, stays continuously engaged with the SCs and provides handholding support to them to fulfill their aspirations.
6) What are the chances of bringing about reservation for SCs in private sector as well?
Reservation in private sector is a long pending demand from SCs. Academic research unambiguously points out that SCs don’t have equal access to jobs in the private sector, though they have requisite skills. Even in advanced nations, a proactive affirmative action to secure diversity at work place is advocated. Such an approach actually helped in enhancing productivity of the private sector. Same should be true in the Indian context. A lot of effort has to be put in to get the private industry on board. The SC Department of Congress party will obviously articulate the aspirations of the SCs in this regard as part of its policy advocacy mandate.
7) What, according to you, are the core issues/problems pertaining to SCs/STs across the country and how do you propose to address them?
There is no other core issue than securing to SCs the rights guaranteed to them in the Constitution. Safeguarding their human rights and preventing discrimination in various spheres of life shall be accorded highest priority. Equally important is to secure to SCs access to quality education, health and livelihood opportunities. The SC department will estimate gaps in various development indicators between SCs and socially-advanced classes and develop strategies for bridging the gaps in a definite timeframe. The SC department will work towards policies, programs and legislations to achieve this objectivity of bringing about equity in development.
8) It is quite some time since the Congress came out with its Bhopal declaration. Do you have any plan to take it forward and if so, in what way?
Congress party’s manifesto for the coming elections will be one occasion where the party can articulate its stated position and its commitment to all the issues concerning SCs. The SC department of AICC will put in place structures and process to capture the voices of SCs across the country to shape the party’s manifesto relating to the issues concerning SCs.