The Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch considers the Union Budget of 2022-2023 as a cruel betrayal of needs of the tribal communities of India. It is not an Amrit kaal but a Vish Kaal for tribal communities, because none of the urgent issues such as hunger, joblessness, loss of livelihood which haunt tribal communities have been even remotely addressed in this budget.
A budget is meant to further the aspect of distributive justice to address economic and social inequalities. But this budget will only intensify the shameful record of India being one of the most unequal countries in the world. The most glaring example is the shameful record of allocations and expenditures for tribal communities. According to the accepted norms, the Government must allocate budgetary funds for STs and SCs in proportion to their percentage in the population. Thus even according to the old estimates of the 2011 census, 8.6 per cent of the total budget expenditure must be allocated for the STs. But according to Statement 10B in the budget papers which gives the total amount earmarked for STs, ( Special Tribal Component- STC) far from giving 8.6 per cent of the total expenditure, the Government has allocated just 2.26 per cent. This means that tribal communities in India have been robbed of 2.5 lakh crore rupees of what is due even by norms accepted by this Government.
There is another way in which tribal communities have been robbed by the Modi Government shown in this budget. Even the inadequate funds which Government declares that they have allocated for tribal communities, is not actually released. For example look at the record of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs. In last year’s budget the allocation was 7484 crore rupees. But of this allocation only 6126 crores was spent. In other words, the Tribal Ministry did not spend 19 per cent of the money it was allocated. Other shocking examples are that at a time when tribal students were forced to drop out of school because of exclusion from online education, 292 crores rupees meant for post matric scholarships were not given. 400 crore rupees meant to set up Eklavya Residential schools for tribal children was not spent. 300 crores meant for mid day meals were not spent. Tribal children were dying of hunger but money allocated on paper was never spent. The Government had promised Tribal universities in AP and Telengana but just two crore rupees was allocated out of which only 47 lakh rupees was actually given and now in this budget only 1.50 crore rupees are allocated. This is nothing but making a mockery of the hopes of tribals in these two states for a university. As far as livelihood is concerned, the government had made such tall claims of allocating funds to ensure minimum support price for minor forest produce. But only 155 crores was allocated of which just 115 crore rupees was spent. This when tribal communities were being forced to make distress sales because of lack of government procurement of minor forest produce. This is a shameful record, repeated in every year of the Modi government when tribals are desperate for support but government refuses to,spend even the money supposedly allocated.
The third shocking aspect is that this year’s budget has cut social subsidies and expenditure such as on food, health, social security, agriculture, fertilizers etc. The food subsidy is slashed by by 80,000 crores which is 28 per cent and funds for MNREGA by 25 per cent which is 25,000 crores rupees less as compared to the amount spent last year. While all sections of the rural,poor will be very badly affected by these cuts, the tribal communities will be the worst sufferers. Tribal communities have the highest numbers of those malnourished particularly children and women. Cuts in food subsidies will be disastrous and lead to direct intensification of hunger and starvation at a time when the government godowns are overflowing with stocks of 10 crore tonnes of foodgrains. As far as MNREGA is concerned, twenty per cent of MNREGA workers belong to tribal communities – more than double their share in the population – showing the desperate need for waged work. When the pandemic has underlined the desperate need to strengthen the health infrastructure including particularly in tribal areas, the government has not increased the allocations for health. This means there will be no improvement in the dismal health infratstructure in tribal areas. Similarly the huge cuts in allocations for agriculture, for rural development, will badly affect tribal communities. Women will be particularly affected by the unprecedented cuts in subsidies for gas cylinders in the STC from 1064 crore rupees in 2020-2021 to just 172 crore rupees in this budget. All the claims that Modi government is concerned for women’s health affected by smoke from open fires for cooking has itself gone up in smoke. With LPG even further out of the reach of most households, burden of foraging for firewood and making dung cakes would fall on women.
The STC under the Modi government is cheating the tribals by diverting the money meant directly for tribal development into other expenditures. 41 departments/Ministries are mandated to be part of STC. But for example an amount of 4500 crores spent on building highways is shown as part of expenditure for tribals, when 50 per cent of tribal villages have no public transport. The STC is replete with such blatant diversions. This is nothing but cheating the tribal communities.
While the budget has robbed and cheated tribal communities, the Government has favored the big corporates by refusing to levy any increased tax on them even though they have made huge profits. At the same time the duties and taxes on petroleum products like diesel, petrol and cooking gas which have pushed up prices, have not been cut. There are no steps to control prices, no steps to create jobs. It is essential to ensure cash transfers of at least 7500 to families outside the income tax paying bracket, but there is no such provision. There is not a single paisa increase in pensions to widows, senior citizens or the disabled.
The budget is an instrument to further the interests of Indias corporates and to make the rich richer. The poor have no place in this budget. Adivasi communities already suffering the deadly effects of the lockdown and restrictions will be severely affected. AARM calls upon its affiliates to observe February 15 as Protest Day against the Modi government’s anti- people, pro- corporate budget.
M. Baburao Jitendra Chaudhury, Chairperson National Convenor