Bihar: Punia accuses Centre of diverting SC/ST housing funds for ‘others’

Congress leader P L Punia, the former chairperson of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC), has accused the Centre of diverting funds from the Scheduled Caste Sub Plan (SCSP) and Tribal Sub Plan (TSP) under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY), pointing to Bihar across three fiscals as an example of the same.

Punia was referring to the disbursal of Rs 2421.94 crore from the financial years 2018-2019, 20-19-20 and 2020-2021 – a period in which only 78 houses for SC beneficiaries and 54 houses for ST beneficiaries were constructed, while the rest of the funds were diverted to houses for “others” and minorities.

As per the PMAY portal under the Union Rural Development Ministry, the construction of no house had been sanctioned in Bihar in 2018-19, while the Centre disbursing Rs 1,354.80 crore for the financial year under the SCSP strategy.

In 2019-20, a total of 39 out of 61 houses sanctioned for SC beneficiaries were constructed. In this fiscal, the Centre disbursed Rs 749.40 crore under the SCSP scheme, while the construction of 12,85,854 houses under “others” and 1,89,785 houses for minorities were sanctioned.

In 2020-21, 39 out of 61 houses sanctioned for SC beneficiaries were constructed, while Rs 39.59 crore was disbursed. During this fiscal, the construction of 2,25,696 houses were sanctioned for “others”, while the corresponding number for minorities was 29,653 houses.

For these three financial years, a cumulative sum of Rs 278.14 crore was disbursed, while 54 out of 150 sanctioned houses were constructed for tribals under TSP.

A Rural Development Ministry letter issued on October 17, 2019 to pay and accounts officers clearly states: “It is reiterated that while allocating targets to districts, state should follow the formula prescribed by the ministry. It is clarified that earmarked targets for SC/ ST and minority cannot be diverted to general category. Only SC and ST targets can be interchanged if there are sufficient justifications.”

Speaking to The Indian Express, Punia said: “As per Planning Commission guidelines, neither the state nor the Central government can change the plan head of SCSP and TSP. Only Parliament has powers to do so. We wonder how the Centre had been diluting such rules.”

Asked about the same, Bihar Rural Development Department Principal Secretary Arvind Choudhary said, “As we had constructed a good number of SC/ST houses since 2014, our priority list (60 per cent for SC/STs) had been exhausted.”

However, Punia noted that once the priority list is exhausted, a state government has to inform the Centre and the disbursal under the SCSP and TSP funds has to be stopped immediately. “But this fund cannot be diverted to the ‘others’ category under any condition,” he said.

The Congress leader added, “It is very sad that the Centre has done away with concepts of SCSP and TSP, running since 1976 and 1980 respectively… The Centre has now been only putting up a list saying they have done work for SCs and STs… The change of fund head is a major issue. We are going to raise the matter in Parliament soon.”

Asked about the “diversion” in SC/ST funds, as alleged by Punia, Choudhary said: “It cannot be called diversion. We used it with the Cenre’s permission.”

According to Delhi-based RTI activist Rajeev Kumar, Ministry of Rural Development Deputy Director General (Rural Housing) Gaya Prasad has stated that as a principle, the plan head of SC or ST fund cannot be changed. “Only Parliament can change it, that too after a cabinet note,” he said.

When asked about Punia’s objections, Union Rural Development Secretary Nagendra Nath Sinha told The Indian Express: “In Bihar’s case, its chief secretary had written to us about its priority list of SC/ ST beneficiaries getting exhausted.”

Asked about the Planning Commission guidelines and the ministry’s 2019 letter, Sinha said, “These guidelines are for broad perspective. Funds are regulated from our end.”

Under the PMAY (Gramin) scheme, the identification of beneficiaries was based on the Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC 2011) data. A total 27,48,163 houseless families, including 2,85,709 eligible SC/ST families, were identified by the Bihar government, of which 26,78,748 houses have been sanctioned, with 2,75,880 beneficiary families belonging to the SC and ST communities.

Under the PMAY(G) scheme, the construction of 17,73,055 houses has been completed, of which 2,23,443 houses are for SC/ST beneficiaries (81 per cent of the sanctioned houses for SC/ST families).

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