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Department of expenditure slash tribal welfare budget,V Kishore Chandra Deo upset
January, 11th 2013

The Centre's bid to tighten its purse strings and prune expenditure over tribal welfare schemes has raised hackles within the government as Congress presses the election button. The department of expenditure has slashed the budget of the tribal affairs ministry in the current financial year.

Though the department has followed the rule book in slashing funds for tribal welfare schemes, the budget cut has alarmed the ministry as this could mean further cuts in 2013-14 financial year.

The department of expenditure has already given feelers that the expenditure has not been up to the mark and the 2013-14 budget estimate could be less than Rs4,090 crore.

The budget cut would directly affect implementation of welfare programmes for Scheduled Tribes, including development of primitive tribal groups, Rajiv Gandhi fellowships for tribal students and establishment of Ashram schools (resident schools in tribal dominated areas). Tribal affairs minister V Kishore Chandra Deo has shot off a letter to finance minister P Chidambaram over the issue.

Sources said Deo has made a strong case against slashing of funds, saying the government is spending a lot of money on fighting Naxalism, but slashing welfare funds for tribals. When contacted, Deo confirmed to ET that the matter had been raised with the finance ministry. Sources said ministers from the affected states have also taken up the matter with the finance minister.

What is worrying the ministry is the fact that the move comes when six of the nine Left Wing Extremism dominated states, which have a large tribal population, go for polls in the next 18 months. These include Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Chhattsigarh and Jharkhand. Congress is ruling in only two states (Andhra and Maharashtra), with the remaining states under opposition rule.

A budget cut would obviously give BJP an issue to slam UPA. Congress considers tribals its traditional vote-bank and would not want BJP or any other party to make any inroads. The welfare of tribals has already been flagged as a key area of concern by senior leaders. At Congress' Surajkund Samvad Baithak, party general secretary Digvijaya Singh, who has always maintained that Left Wing Extremism is a development issue and not a law and order problem, had pointed out how Congress was losing its foothold in the tribal areas and there was an urgent need to reclaim the votebank. Singh had used the platform to question the government over the implementation of Forest Rights Act.

Till November 2012, the tribal affairs ministry had spent 53% of the Plan funds allocated. While reviewing the budget allocation for 2012-13 and the proposed allocation for 2013-14, the department of expenditure decided to prune the ministry's allocation by a whopping 24% in the current fiscal. The revised estimates for the ministry, which had got a 10% higher allocation in 2012-13, are down to Rs3,100 crore from the budget estimate of Rs4,090. This is even lower than the ministry's allocation of Rs3,723.01 crore in 2011-12.

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