Institute for Social and Economic Change

Working Paper: 500

Development Paradox and Economic Development of SCs
and STs since India's Independence with
Special Reference to Karnataka

Krishna Raj



The social and economic empowerment of all weaker sections of the society is enshrined in the Indian Constitution. The Constitution of India compels both Central and State governments to bring all socially and economically deprived sections of society on the path of development. The governments are compelled to ensure equal rights, opportunities, access to services, benefits, and resources of the government to enable them to develop their potential and capacities as agents of social change for their upward economic and social mobility. The rights to equal opportunity and well-being through preferential treatment in educational and economic spheres in favour of the weaker sections of the people is embedded in the foundation of the Constitution. Clause (4) of Article 16 of the Constitution ensures equitable opportunities for deprived social groups. Further, Article 46 states that “the State shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and, in particular, the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs)”. Despite several Five Year Plans since Independence, and focus on the economic empowerment of SCs and STs, they continue to live in abject poverty, homelessness, unemployment, landlessness, poor health and education. In this regard, the Government of India, in the recent 12th Five Year Plan, has given special focus on ‘faster, sustainable and more inclusive growth’ that highlights the concerns for the poor, especially economically deprived sections of the society viz., the SCs and STs. In this backdrop, the present paper makes an attempt to assess the development status of SCs and STs in Karnataka since Independence, relying on various secondary sources of data on various socio-economic indicators.

Karnataka has achieved significant growth and development. The state has been successful in reducing poverty, providing employment, and improving human development indicators such as levels of literacy, education and health in the last 72 years of the development process. However, the share of development opportunities is evidently unequal, and it has put tremendous pressure on the government to bring all deprived sections of society, particularly SCs and STs, in the development process. They combined together constitute about 24 per cent of the total population of the state. Their social and economic conditions are nowhere comparable with that of the economically privileged and forward castes. Undoubtedly, the state has given preferential treatment by a wide variety of affirmative policy initiatives and programmes for the empowerment of these social groups. But evidence shows that economic and social gaps are widening between the deprived and highly privileged groups in recent years. The disgraceful socioeconomic condition of socially excluded sections of society, particularly the poorest among various social groups, is mainly attributed to the existence of social hierarchies based on caste, ethnicity and religion; this has caused market segmentation and limited access to public goods such as health, education and employment. The data shows that SCs and STs are among the most vulnerable sections of society, going by all the social, economic, educational and human development indices. Economic development under the new economic policy has been unleashing stiff competition, thereby causing a “development deficit” for these groups, given their social and economic background. The social and economic opportunities under liberalisation have not reached them, given the status of their asset bases and income levels in terms of land holding and levels of poverty relative to other groups of society. The unequal level playing field heralded by liberalisation has made them bear the brunt of unemployment and continued multidimensional poverty both at the state and national levels. The representation of these social groups in public and private jobs is absolutely low, given the low levels of access to higher education among them. The lack of entrepreneurship given their economic backwardness or dearth of capital is very high among these groups in comparison with forward castes. The levels of literacy and education continue to be very low and has resulted in their low participation rate in the employment market. Employment opportunities in the private sector are not fully accessible to many SCs and STs, owing to lack of skill development and orientation towards availability of jobs. Even today, many opportunities opened up by economic liberalisation are still a distant dream for the socially and economically deprived sections of society.

The deprivation is widespread among SCs and STs as per the analysis of the social, economic and educational status data. This shows that there is an urgent need to review and monitor affirmative policy initiatives in the context of available data and evidence and provide a road map for new policy initiatives to empower these downtrodden sections of society. Even though political emancipation for deprived social groups is bestowed by the Constitution through reserved constituencies, political participation in decision making by these social groups is absent, and their constituencies continue to be backward, which requires a big push in terms of broad-basing their economic opportunities. The constitutional obligation of the state is to ensure equitable opportunities to the depressed classes to overcome their social, economic and educational backwardness due to the inescapable discriminatory practices in society. Social justice and empowerment is needed through affirmative actions including provision of free and quality education, adequacy of representation in executive posts, distribution of economic assets in favour of them and promotion of entrepreneurship and skill development, making them employable in the private sector job markets. The developmental effectiveness of government policy must intend to make Karnataka free from hunger, poverty and unemployment, which certainly ensures social justice and empowerment of deprived sections of society. Therefore, the development process should help to reduce social and economic inequality and impart confidence and mutual respect among the social groups since they are seriously lagging with respect to most of the social, economic, educational, political and human development indicators.

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