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Caste politics: Maha carves out new dept to woo 30% population of backward communities

Playing another caste card in the state, the Devendra Fadnavis government on Tuesday cleared the decks to set-up a separate department especially for the Other Backward Classes/ nomadic/ denotified tribes/ Specially backward communities, carving out from the Social Justice and Special Justice Department.

The department called, “Department of Denotified Tribes, Nomadic Tribes, Specially backward and Other Backward Classes” would be operational by April 1, 2017, says a cabinet note. The Centre doesn’t have a separate department for backward communities.

As of now, the Chief Minister has kept the newly-formed department under him. It is likely to be given to some cabinet minister soon.

The OBC/ nomadic/ denotified communities/ SBC together constitute 30% of the state’s population at 3.68 crore.

This is the second time when an OBC department has been carved out from the social justice department in Maharahstra. “In 1999, the then Sena-BJP government had done ditto, however, the departments were merged again after the realisation that the move was impractical as they both spearheaded the same welfare schemes,” Rajkumar Badole, Minister of Social Justice and Social Asistance, said. Badole is now left with the Schedule Caste and Buddhist communities which are 13% of the total population.

Badole assured the government will move in a planned way this time. As of now, 59 new posts have been created which will cost the exchequer Rs 2.2 crore, apart from recurring cost of Rs 1.5 crore annually.

“Most of the people belonging to these communities are educationally and socially backward. The new department will be able to implement welfare schemes in a better way to uplift them ,” Badole said.

The social justice department currently has a total budget of Rs 12,000 crore including planned and non-planned both for 24 schemes including educational and housing aid.

Out of this, nearly Rs 2,000 crore is earmarked for the scholarships/ feeship to the students of OBC, VJ (Vimukti Jati or deonotified tribes) and NT (Nomadic tribes) communities.

The department has been marred by massive corruption in the scholarship and free-ship schemes for many years. “Corruption is the major driving factor to establish a new ministry. Because of drainage of funds in the name of fake students, educational institutes and department officials managed to make huge money. But those who needed it remained out of purview of the schemes,” said a top official.

A year ago, the government was forced to constitute a taskforce headed by Director General of Police (Planning) Dr K Venkatesham which has in its preliminary report, suspected a whopping 50% pilferage in the free-ship and scholarship schemes of underprivileged communities.

Badole however insists that the move aims to empower the socially neglected communities and corruption has nothing to do with the decision. “Dr Venkatesham has not yet submitted the final report,” Badole said.

After the cabinet meet, Fadnavis said, “The social justice department is overburdened with multiple responsibilities. Besides, there was a long pending demand for a separate ministry for OBCs.”