Indian Constitution envisages an elaborate scheme for upliftment of weaker sections of the society that predominantly includes Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. One of the Directive Principles of the State Policy requires the state ‘to promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and, in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and to protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation”.

While there are many such constitutional and statutory mechanisms for safeguarding the interest of the Dalit community it largely depends on the government to ensure that it is realised and implemented on the ground, in real terms. In this context Narendra Modi government from 2014 to 2019 through various welfare schemes and legal safeguards brought substantial change to the lives of millions of people belonging to the Dalit community.

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Unlike most of the governments in the past which prominently paid 'lip service' and made dole-outs as the basis of SC/ST welfare, the Modi government focused on “capability building” by launching several schemes that were meant to provide the opportunity of self-realisation. 

Apart from this, for political empowerment of Dalits, Modi government has left no stone unturned which is evident from the fact that BJP has the largest number of MPs, state legislators, mayors, Zila Parishad chairpersons and village heads belonging from the Schedule Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) communities. Most importantly, BJP’s decision in 2017 to support Ramnath Kovind as its candidate for the highest constitutional office—the president of the Indian Republic, was the testimony of BJP’s intent in promoting the interest of Dalit community in the social, political and economic arena. 

New York Times commenting on this wrote, “A rare achievement for a member of a community once known as “untouchables” and one of the most deprived groups in India”.

Inspired by the Modi government at Centre, several BJP led state governments also brought in law and schemes that were meant to safeguard the interest of the Dalit community. To cite an example, in 2016, BJP government in Maharashtra took a bold and highly appreciable decision of introducing ‘Prohibition of Social Boycott Bill’ in the state Assembly which made discrimination and social boycott a punishable offense with maximum punishment of seven years in prison or fine up to Rs 5 lakh or both.

After being re-elected, one of the first few decisions of the Modi government was related to the welfare of the Dalit community. It is related to a decision to revamp social welfare schemes for Scheduled Castes. According to several news reports that appeared in June 2019, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment decided to completely revamp its major welfare scheme for Scheduled Castes.

Till now the welfare scheme for Scheduled Castes was implemented on “committed liability principle” under which the major financial burden of implementing these schemes fell on the state, initially and the Centre would release funds at the end of a five year plan that would only add a small share to the funds of the respective states. But, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment proposed that the Centre should bear 75% of the financial burden and states will bear only 25%. When and as implemented, this would be a watershed decision in this history of the welfare of the Dalit community.

Also, notable is the fact that in the interim budget presented this year by the Modi government, allocations for the welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribe witnessed substantial hike. There was a 35.6% increase in Allocation for Welfare of Scheduled Castes (AWSC) from Rs 56,619 crore in 2018-19 financial year to Rs 76,801 crore in 2019-20. The allocation under the Scheduled Tribes component was increased 28% from Rs 39,135 crore in 2018-19 to Rs 50,086 crore in 2019-20.

In all the major welfare schemes launched by the Modi government, one of the biggest beneficiaries has been the Dalit community which has been waiting for the fruits of developments for decades but was only handed over deprivation.

To cite an example, the perfect one would be ‘Ujjwala Yojna’, a flagship welfare scheme of the Modi government that aimed at increasing LPG cylinder coverage among poor families. Till last year there were four crore beneficiaries of this scheme and out of that at least 45% were from Scheduled Castes and Schedule Tribes. Similarly, schemes like Skill India, Stand-Up India, and Mudra Yojna all had a substantial share of beneficiary coming from the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes.

While the Modi government was focusing on the economic development of the SC/ST community, it understood the fact that without providing a positive and safe environment, the overall development of the Dalit community would not be possible in real terms. In this context, it is important to recall that in 2018, the Supreme Court through its judgment diluted its earlier judgment that allowed “immediate arrest” under Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. It ensured that no false cases were registered, and no innocent people were harassed.

However, the government introduced a bill to overturn the apex court order, which was passed by the Lok Sabha on August 6, 2018, and then Rajya Sabha on August 9, 2018. The bill while ruling out any provision for anticipatory bail for a person accused of atrocities against SC/STs, also provided that no preliminary inquiry will be required for registering a criminal case and an arrest under this law would not be subject to any approval.

This was a landmark step in strengthening the institutional safeguard against atrocity against the Dalit community. Now, the Modi government has also moved a review petition in the apex court to review its judgment which in September was referred to a three-judge bench.

"Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas" seen as a political slogan has not been limited to the campaigning fields but has been made a reality in every respect. To ensure this, development of the Dalit community and Other Backward castes (OBCs) was given the utmost priority under the Modi government whose biggest achievement lies in the fact that it implemented the adage “Sarvjan Hitay Sarvjan Sukhay” in letter and spirit.