Explainer: Telangana govt’s Dalit Bandhu scheme and its politics

Dalit Bandhu is done via a one-time direct cash transfer of Rs 10 lakh to each family of that community, the biggest ever direct benefit transfer (DBT) scheme in the country.

At an all-party meeting conducted at the Pragati Bhavan last month, Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, condemning the social and economic ostracism faced by Dalits in India, called for their upliftment in the state. Formally announcing the CM Dalit empowerment Scheme at a cost of 1200 crore, KCR said the state government is ready to spend Rs 35,000 crore to Rs 40,000 crore for the next three to four years on the scheme.

The chief minister first announced the scheme at a public meeting at Haliya in February, ahead of the by-elections in Nagarjuna Sagar assembly constituency. Subsequently, it was incorporated into the state budget. Finance minister T Harish Rao, while earmarking Rs 1,000 crore for the scheme, said the KCR government was committed to the welfare of the Dalits.

On July 24, KCR renamed the scheme ‘Telangana Dalit Bandhu’, which sounds similar to the government’s successful ‘Rythu Bandhu’ scheme. He announced that the scheme would be implemented on a pilot basis in the Huzurabad assembly constituency, which is going for by-elections shortly.

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What is Dalit Bandhu?

This latest flagship program by the Telangana government envisages empowerment and uplift of Dalits. It is done via a one-time direct cash transfer of Rs 10 lakh to each family of that community, the biggest ever direct benefit transfer (DBT) scheme in the country.

To simply put it, the government shall extend financial help to Dalits to set up a business of their choice, which will pave the way for their financial independence. A beneficiary can choose to buy anything for his/her business–like power tillers, harvesters, paddy planting machines, auto trolleys, tractors, etc for their farms to setting up a poultry farm, dairy farm, oil mill, grinding mill, steel, cement and bricks business, furniture shops, cloth emporiums, mobile phone shops or even tiffin centers and hotels.

“Dalit Bandhu is a free scheme and the amount given to the beneficiaries is not a loan. There is no need to repay the amount. There are no middlemen involved in the scheme and the amount would be deposited directly into the bank accounts of the beneficiaries,” the chief minister explained.

Implementation of Dalit Bandhu

In the first phase of implementation, 100 families from each of the 119 assembly constituencies in the state would be selected and Rs 10 lakh each would be given to the eligible 11,900 people. This would be under the allotted budget of Rs 1200 crore.

However, in Huzurabad alone, there are 20,929 Dalit families. The government says the scheme would be applicable to only eligible beneficiaries among them, who would be selected through thorough scrutiny. Priority would be given to those who have no assets.

A government order issued on Dalit Bandhu’s implementation called it an innovative program aimed at eradicating poverty among the scheduled caste population in the state.  “It was decided that this program will be taken up across the State in all the 119 Assembly Constituencies, with a unit cost of 10 lakhs per eligible household, totally as a grant, without any bank linkages,” the GO said.

Before the scheme is implemented, all the disputes, if any, pertaining to assigned and gram kanta lands of Dalits and others would be resolved. Also, basic infrastructure facilities in Dalitwadas (SC colonies) would be developed.

Calling for economic empowerment of Dalits envisioned by Dr B R Ambedkar, the chief minister said the government would continue to extend reservations for Dalits in various sectors including setting up fertilizer shops, wine shops and rice mills.

The government proposes to set up a Dalit Security Fund, through which a minimum amount will be deposited into the bank accounts of the beneficiaries.

“We will issue identity cards for the Dalit Bandhu beneficiaries. We will insert an electronic chip in the cards for every beneficiary. We will monitor the implementation of the scheme through this. We will ensure that the beneficiary will become financially strong but never allow him to fall,” KCR said, after interacting with Huzurabad Dalit representatives on July 26.

Dalit Bandhu for political leverage? KCR responds

Obviously, the opposition sees a political angle in the implementation of the Dalit Bandhu scheme in the Huzurabad assembly constituency, which is going for a by-election soon.

The by-poll is necessitated with the resignation of the former health minister and four-time MLA Eatala Rajender from the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and his assembly membership. He later joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Though a CMO statement described the proposed launch of Dalit Bandhu in Huzurabad as a mere sentiment, considering Rythu Bandhu was launched from the same constituency (with Eatala by his side), KCR did not deny gaining mileage through the scheme.

“The TRS is a 100 per cent political party and when a scheme is launched, we expect to derive political mileage out of it. Why should we not do so when those who don’t have the power are trying to gain political advantage?” he asked, while inducting former Congress leader from Huzurabad, Padi Kaushik Reddy into TRS.

The Congress and the BJP raised a hue and cry over the chief minister’s statement and accused him of luring the Dalits in Huzurabad with the Dalit Bandhu scheme to garner their votes. They demanded that the scheme be taken up all over the state simultaneously.

A Hyderabad-based civil society organization Forum for Good Governance (FGG) wrote to the Election Commission of India (ECI) seeking postponement of Dalit Bandhu in Huzurabad, which is purportedly being used for political gains.

The announcement of this much-hyped scheme comes after a Dalit woman named Mariyamma died in custody at Yadadri district’s Addagudur police station. The case threw open a discussion on so-called friendly policing in Telangana, as the Congress party amplified it at various levels. A delegation of Congress leaders had also met KCR to demand action.

After that, KCR had offered a government job, ₹35 lakh ex gratia and house as compensation to the victim’s family. After a probe was ordered, Rachakonda police commissioner Mahesh Bhagwat also suspended the station’s SI and two constables allegedly responsible for her death.

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