Cong devises low-cost plan to woo dalits

Times of India, 9th July 2009

NEW DELHI: For just Rs 10 lakh, Congress could carve a political role in dalit politics worth a fortune, as the `Pradhan Mantri Adarsh Gram Yojana' promises to help consolidate the UPA leader's hand on its traditional votebank.

The PMAGY lays out a plan for development of SC villages through convergence of central and state schemes but it earmarks only Rs 10 lakh per village as "gap funding".

The limitations of low allocation are cast aside by an overarching role the plan gives to Centre in development of villages with over 50% SC population. It seeks a convergence of central and state schemes for development of basic amenities in identified villages.

The plan is quite ambitious, aiming to bring to these villages Bharat Nirman -- PMGSY for rural roads, water supply, housing, electrification -- and other big-ticket schemes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, NREGS, ICDS, sanitation.

While the "gap funding" would be only Rs 10 lakh, the villages will benefit from being given "priority" in development, as against the infinite wait they may have to endure to see these infrastructural interventions.

According to the plan, even the guidelines of these schemes will be changed if villages do not fulfil their eligibility criteria.

The central role will go right down to smallest unit with `gram panchayats' making the village sub-plan at the block level before sending them to zilla parishad and then to Centre.

What has Congressmen in glee is the political subtext of the scheme which gives a direct role to Centre to cultivate dalits at the grassroots.

It is felt the implication in coming years would be for non-Congress states, like BSP in UP, as the scheme would give Centre a pan-Indian footing to win over the politically crucial social group. Its resonance is likely to be high in UP, Maharashtra, Punjab and Haryana which will have highest beneficiary villages.

Government sources said that despite seeing the political gambit in it, the non-Congress states may not be in a position to ignore PMAGY, lest it gives Centre a pretext to dub it as "anti-dalit". With villages identified and a schedule drawn up for implementation, any state reluctance to PMAGY could trigger reaction among potential beneficiaries.

The political cost of ignoring a central welfare scheme was felt by BJP, SP and BSP when they mocked the NREGS as "demeaning to the poor", only to come around later.

The new scheme gives an enormous reach to Centre to send out its pro-dalit credentials. Around 44,000 villages have an SC population above 50% which qualify for PMAGY. Planning sources said initial proposal identified 40% population as the eligibility mark, leading to 71,000 villages falling in its ambit. It was then raised by 10%.


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