The Punjab government will spend at least 30 per cent of funds under all government schemes for the welfare of the state’s Scheduled Caste (SC) population.
This was announced on Wednesday by Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, along with a host of other measures for the upliftment of the Dalit community, as a mark of homage to B.R. Ambedkar, who he said should be remembered as the first Indian who achieved so much for the Dalit Samaj.
Paying floral tributes to the architect of the Indian Constitution, B.R. Ambedkar, on his 130th birth anniversary, at a virtual state-level event, the Chief Minister also announced filling up of the SC vacancy backlog in all departments on priority, while promising to explore a post-matric overseas scholarship scheme for SC students, on the lines of the Baroda State Scholarship Scheme awarded to Baba Sahib under a scheme established by Sayajirao Gaekwad III.
The Chief Minister further announced a special Rs 500 crore Rural Link Roads project for FY2022.
The project will encompass construction of new link roads to the ‘bastis’ of the Scheduled Castes and other poorer sections of society, which do not currently have road connectivity.
‘Shamshan ghats’ and places of worship will also be connected through the project.
“A special allocation of Rs 100 crore is proposed in 2021-22 for modernisation of villages having more than 50 per cent SC population,” said the Chief Minister, adding this was aimed at providing further impetus to existing grants in the villages having SC population greater than or equal to 50 per cent of the total population.
Smartphones will be given to all Class 12 SC students in government schools, while to motivate people to take up dairy farming, 150 village-level awareness camps and training at nine training and extension centres will be conducted, with special emphasis on the SC beneficiaries, he added.
The Chief Minister further announced that his government also proposes to provide 30 per cent reservation for SC applicants in villages under the ‘Har Ghar Pakki Chhat’ scheme, and also 30 per cent in the affordable housing scheme for EWS.
His government also plans to set up a Dr B.R. Ambedkar Institute of Training at Jalandhar for competitive exams, including civil services.
Lamenting the anti-Dalit mindset that still exists in the country, the Chief Minister underlined the need for better awareness among the people.
Unfortunately, he said, he did not have the resources to do all that he really wanted to do to spread Ambedkar’s message.
Amarinder Singh recalled that when Rajiv Gandhi contested for the first time from Amethi, after the death of his brother Sanjay Gandhi, the campaigning task was handed over to him for one of the four areas in the constituency.
He went on to recall: “An SC youth who was deputed to help me wanted to get off the jeep before entering an upper caste dominated village, but I did not allow him to. He was standing next to me when the villagers offered me water, asking him to go out. But I made it clear that he will not go out alone. So I also left the place, telling them – “Votan pao ya na pao, appa jaa rahe hain”. (Give us votes or not, we are going!)
State Congress President Sunil Jakhar criticised the ‘manuwadi soch’ that still divides society on the basis of caste, colour, creed, with no financial equality and Dalits still treated as untouchables.
“People who promote this mindset are playing with the sentiments of the community and Baba Sahib’s ideology,” he said, adding that it is “our responsibility to spread awareness among the SC community against their exploitation.”
MLA Raj Kumar Verka suggested setting up a committee for implementation of the 85th amendment, as well as increase in wages and permanent employment for safai karamcharis.