This is the third in our 7 part series on citizen impact on government budgets. Click here to read part 2.
Civil society organizations can sometimes struggle for years without apparent impact on government policies and budgets. Such sustained campaigns do, however, prepare CSOs to act decisively when new opportunities come knocking.
The success of the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights’ (NCDHR) Campaign 789 was built on the CSO’s diligent budget monitoring and persistent efforts to get government to honor its promises to the Dalit community. When international attention was focused on India and the Commonwealth Games (CWG) 2010 – and, more specifically, corruption linked to the games – the NCDHR and its partners were ready to push ahead for greater accountability from the government and/or fairer allocation of resources.
Scheduled Caste Sub Plan and Code 789: redressing injustices
The Dalits, who were traditionally regarded as “untouchable” in India’s caste system, make up the most disadvantaged community in India. Comprising 16.2 percent of the Indian population, the Dalits are physically and socially excluded. The majority of the community (62 percent) is also illiterate. The Indian Constitution, recognizing this injustice, includes clear directives about redressing these injustices.
However, the Indian government has been lax in making sure that these directives are followed and that the measures put in place are adhered to. Take, for example, the Special Component Plan, which was introduced in 1980 and was renamed the Scheduled Caste Sub Plan (SCSP) in 2006-07.
The SCSP requires government to spend a pro rata proportion (that is, 16.2 percent) of funds set aside for development specifically on the Dalits. However, in 2007-08 only 6.1 percent of development funds were channeled through the SCSP, and in the budget for 2011-12 this number had risen marginally to 8.84 percent. Furthermore, the allocations are not binding and the way in which the funds are allocated means that it is possible for funds to be spent in such a way that they do not specifically benefit the Dalits.
In 1995, the government introduced code 789 to categorize all SCSP funds; however, because no timeframe was stipulated, most departments neglected to do so. This meant that there was no way to track what SCSP funds were actually being spent on. This made it difficult to monitor what the funds were being spent on and to hold government accountable when it diverted funds meant for the economic, educational, and social development of the Dalits to other projects and programmes such as the CWG 2010.
Taking advantage of the Commonwealth Games
The NCDHR, which was established in 1998, worked for many years with various government departments – such as the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) and the Planning Commission of India, which is responsible for resource allocation – in an attempt to get the government to implement code 789 and meet its obligations under the SCSP.
While the NCDHR achieved small successes in this way, it was the international attention generated by the CWG 2010 that provided the campaign with the much-needed momentum to secure some promising interim impacts. At the time of the CWG 2010, national and international media focused on issues of corruption around the games. Because the NCDHR had, for many years, been doing in-depth budget work, it was able to take advantage of this opportunity to draw attention to the way in which funds intended for the development of the Dalits were being diverted elsewhere.
Together with the Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN), another CSO, the NCDHR established, by studying the Delhi administration’s budget allocations, that funds for the CWG 2010 were being diverted from various sources including SCSP allocations. The NCDHR held a press conference on the misuse of SCSP funds and, because there was already national and international media attention on stories of corruption related to the CWG 2010, the story made headlines.
“The campaign shows how the impact of CSO campaigns can be multiplied when they tap into the agendas of other powerful actors on the national and international stage,” Vimala Ramachandran and Sapna Goel wrote in a case study about the campaign.
The HLRN then filed a right-to-information petition, asking for information on the cost of the CWG 2010 and, more specifically, the amount of SCSP funds that was diverted to the CWG 2010 between 2006 and 2010. The government admitted that INR 7.44 billion in resources had been diverted from the SCSP, and the NCDHR and NLRN held a joint press conference to share this information with the media and parliamentarians.
Promising interim impacts
Opposition members of parliament subsequently raised the issue in parliament and the home minister of India was forced to admit that the diversion of funds was wrong and that the government would make sure that the funds were returned. The government of India also made it mandatory for all departments to use code 789 in the budget of 2011-12. In addition to this, the Planning Commission set up a taskforce in June 2010 to “re-examine and revise the extant guidelines issued by Planning Commission for implementation of SCSP.”
While the fight is far from over – the government has yet to actually return the funds as it promised – the NCDHR has demonstrated how large national events and the international pressure that they generate can be used to push a particular agenda onto the national stage.
Ramachandran and Goel conclude that “this campaign illustrates the importance of sustained monitoring and advocacy pressure throughout the policy and budget cycle.”
Were it not for the NCDHR’s diligent budget work and ability to analyze budget allocations, the CSO would not have been able to seize the opportunity presented by the CWG 2010 and the 162 million members of the Dalit community would have been poorer for it.
This post was written by Rebekah Kendal based on the case study by Vimala Ramachandran and Sapna Goel commissioned by the International Budget Partnership. Click here to read more case studies of how citizen budget monitoring has improved government service delivery.