Letter to Union finance minister Arun Jaitley by PS Krishnan, IAS (Retd), former secretary to Government of India, Ministry of Welfare; Member, National Monitoring Committee for Education of SCs, STs and Persons with Disabilities, Government of India:
As you are aware, even after my retirement in 1990 as Secretary, Ministry of Welfare (since trifurcated into the three Ministries of Social Justice & Empowerment, Tribal Affairs and Minority Affairs), I continue to work for the cause of the Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEdBCs).
I am writing this letter, in continuation of my e-DO letter to you dated 9.9.2016, about one of the serious problems being faced by SC and ST students. Huge amounts of arrears of Post-Matric Scholarship (PMS) and Maintenance Allowance have piled up. As a result, a number of SC and ST students are forced to drop out at advanced stages of their higher education. Those who were hanging on have to prosecute their studies under conditions of severe stress and distress on account of non-payment of these dues.
I understand that of the year 2015-2016, 70% of the dues are in arrears and of 2016-17 the entire dues are in arrears. These arrears add up to more than Rs 10,000 or 11,000 crores. Further, the FY 2017-18 is about to start. You had advanced the Budget session in order that outlays to meet developmental needs and claims become available right from the beginning of the new FY. Taking the dues of 2017-18 also into account, so that it too does not fall into arrears, the total amount urgently required for PMS is Rs 15000 crores.
The PMS owes its origin Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, who is respected by all as the icon of Social Justice and to whom the present Government continuously and rightly pays homage. He laid it down as an “open-ended” scheme and this principle has continued to apply. The concept of an “open-ended” scheme is that whatever be the dues that arise shall be met in time irrespective of the amount provided in the Budget. If Dr Ambedkar’s and the Government’s principle of “open-endedness” had been followed, arrears ought not have arisen.
You are also aware that the proportion of SCs and STs in the relevant age-group in higher education is less than the proportion of the population in the relevant age-group of the Socially Advance Castes (SACs), i.e., the non-SC, non-ST, non-SEdBC castes (NSCTBCS) in higher education. In accordance with Dr Ambedkar’s principle and the Constitutional mandate of Equality, SCs and STs have to be enabled to reach the level of the SACs/NSCTBCs.
This will require increasing provisions from year to year, which has to be estimated with reasonable correctness and provided in the Budget adequately. The present impasse has arisen because the outlay of PMS is grossly under-budgeted and the principle of “open-endedness” has been lost sight of. Against an amount of about Rs 15000 crores required to meet the arrears of 2015-16 and 2016-17 and the dues of the FY 2017-18, only an amount of Rs 3347.99 crores has been provided in the BE of 2017-18. This gross under-budgeting will ensure carry forward of huge arrears, handicapping the progress of SC and ST towards Equality in higher education and adding to the distress of SC and ST students.
In Annexure-1, I give an illustration from one State which came to my notice.
I am aware that you are anxious to keep down the fiscal deficit and you have kept it at a level of 3.2%, bringing it down from 3.9% in 2015-16 and 3.5% in 2016-17. This has rightly received widespread appreciation. But, to achieve a low fiscal deficit by reducing known dues is artificial and not realistic. The enhancement of Budgetary provision for meeting the entire PMS dues in arrears will only very negligibly increase the fiscal deficit by 0.07%. On account of compulsions of development, you have already allowed the fiscal deficit to be 3.2% against the target of 3%.
By the same logic, there is stronger justification for increasing the fiscal deficit by 0.07% for ensuring that the needs of PMS and other related allowances for the higher education of SC and ST students are fully met in accordance with the principle of “open-endedness” of Dr Ambedkar and the Constitutional mandate of Equality. But if you still feel that the fiscal deficit should be kept at the same level, the additional Budgetary outlay required for PMS to meet the arrears and dues for 2017-18 (Rs. 11653 crores as shown in Annexure) may be met by cutting from some other outlays provided other than any of the outlays provided for SCs, STs and other deprived classes and categories.
The failure to provide full dues of scholarship and Maintenance Allowance etc. is causing extreme stress for SC and ST students, drop-outs from higher education and hampering the educational progress of SCs and STs. This is perceived by SCs and STs at the grassroots level as anti-SC-and-ST actions and interpreted as the present Government’s negative attitude towards the higher educational progress of SCs and STs – I am anxious that this negative perception against Government should be removed by taking the remedial measure of adequate additional outlay for this scheme as I have suggested.
I request you to kindly see that the additional Rs. 15000 crores is provided in this Budget for PMS. It is essential that the SC and ST students receive their PMS (payable to educational institutions) and Maintenance Allowance at the beginning of each month/quarter as we provide for our children. This can be achieved by releasing to the States/educational institutions/banks at the beginning of the FY the amount equal to the Actuals of the previous year, followed by subsequent releases according to actual need in advance of each month/quarter.
I shall await your kind response at your earliest so that I can communicate to the vast Dalit and Adivasi people and those working for them throughout the country who are in continuous touch with me a positive picture well before the next lap of the present Budget session.
Annexure – 1
Illustration of PMS arrears and consequences in respect of private engineering colleges in one state, viz, Tamil Nadu
Recently, the following persons met me on 13.02.2017:
(i) Shri R. S. Muniratnam, Founder Chairman, RMK Group of Institutions, RSM Nagar, Kavaraipettai – 601206, Tamil Nadu. Tel: 044 – 3330330, 26221641
(ii) Shri T.D. Eswaramoorthy, Chairman & Managing Director, EASA College of Engineering & Technology, NH-47, Palakkad Main Road Navakkari (PO), Coimbatore -641105, Tamil Nadu, Tel: 0422 – 2656872
(iii) Dr P. Selvaraj, Secretary, Consortium of Self-Financing Professional Arts and Science Colleges in Tamil Nadu, No. 5, Kurinji Salai, Annamalai Nagar, Thiruchirappalli – 620018, Tamil Nadu
They told me that 10% of the dues for 2015-16 (Rs 75 crores) and the entire amount of dues for 2016-17 (Rs 750 crores) in respect of PMS payable directly to the private engineering colleges in Tamil Nadu are in arrears (This does not include Maintenance Allowance payable to SC and ST students/their bank accounts). They said that they are sympathetic to the education of SCs and STs, but with such dues it becomes financially unviable for them. This is hampering the education of SC and ST students.