From Dalit Bandhu to land distribution: KCR’s Dalit outreach is riddled with flaws

Dalit activists say KCR has failed to fulfil his promises to the community ever since he took oath as CM in 2014.

WrittenBy:E Bhavani
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Before taking oath as the first chief minister of the newly formed Telangana state in 2014, K Chandrashekar Rao as the chief of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi – now rechristened as the Bharat Rashtra Samithi – had made a promise. At public events and press meets, KCR always promised that the state’s first CM would be a Dalit legislator. In its 2014 manifesto, his party also promised that all landless Dalit families dependent on farming would get three acres of arable land.

Even as these two promises remained unfulfilled, KCR used the high-voltage Huzurabad bypolls in 2021–  necessitated by the resignation of prominent BRS leader and MLA Eatala Rajender, who jumped ship to BJP – to announce his flagship Dalit Bandhu scheme. BRS lost to BJP in the bypolls. 

Historically, Dalits, predominantly landless and politically under-represented, have rallied behind KCR in Telangana, knocking out TDP and Congress in the 2014 assembly elections. However, after becoming the CM himself in 2014, Dalit activists say he has failed to fulfil his promises towards them. And that the Dalit Bandhu scheme, where eligible SC families would receive Rs 10 lakh financial assistance, remains shoddily implemented.

Until the state’s bifurcation, united Andhra Pradesh had been predominantly ruled by Congress and, for about a decade, by TDP. Both parties have always been led by dominant leaders from the Reddy and Kamma communities, respectively. However, after a decade, TRS has forayed into national politics by renaming itself as BRS. It has been criticised as another dominant caste party led by a Velama (the community that KCR belongs to), while heavily relying on votes from Dalits. 

In 2021, KCR admitted that he couldn't fulfil his promise of making a Dalit person the chief minister for ‘several reasons’, and highlighted how, despite the failed promise, the party managed to win the 2018 assembly elections, as well as various local body polls, with ease. 

Now on this third election campaign, KCR is once again trying to bank on the Dalit card by talking about the Dalit Bandhu scheme in most of his speeches. “In the past seven decades, has anyone thought of such an innovative scheme? Why were other parties unable to come up with such an idea except BRS?” he asked in one of his campaign speeches.

What is the Dalit Bandhu scheme? 

Under Dalit Bandhu, the BRS government provides a one-time capital assistance of Rs 10 lakh per Dalit household, towards income-generating activities. The scheme is supplemented by the Dalit Protection Fund, a special corpus where the beneficiary makes a contribution of Rs 10,000 matched by the government. This corpus will serve as an emergency fund from which the government will give financial support to beneficiaries whose investments are at risk, KCR had said. 

Having announced the scheme during the run-up to the Huzurabad bypolls, the scheme was launched in Huzurabad on a pilot basis in 2021. More than 18,000 beneficiaries were covered under the scheme. It was then extended to Chintakani (3,462), Tirumalagiri (2,223), Charagonda (1,407) and Nizamsagar (1,298) mandals in four different districts on saturation mode (all eligible persons would benefit from the scheme). The government monitored the scheme implementation and evaluated results from these regions, KCR said. The scheme was then pared down and the government decided to roll it out in two phases. 

The first phase with a target of only 100 beneficiaries in each of the remaining constituencies was completed in 33 districts, covering 11,837 beneficiaries in the state.

According to P Karunakar, vice chairman and managing director of the Telangana SC Co-op Development Corporation, around 38,600 Dalit families have benefited through the scheme so far, and the state has spent Rs 3,870.62 crore on the scheme as of 2023, including the first phase and pilot/saturation mode implementation before that. The second phase, announced in March this year, aims to identify 1,100 beneficiaries per constituency – nearly 1.3 lakh beneficiaries in total. 

But Dalit activists are also unhappy with the way the second phase is progressing, alleging that it is only being dangled by KCR as yet another big election promise, whose implementation may wane even if the BRS returns to power. 

Shankar, an anti-caste activist from Dalit Bahujan Front (DBF), said, “BRS announced a second phase and delayed the implementation. They know that the code of conduct for elections will be implemented, but they simply made a big promise just before the election to cash in on Dalit votes.”

According to the scheme’s implementation guidelines, the district administration finalises the beneficiaries based on the local MLA’s recommendations. The beneficiaries are categorised into different sectors such as agriculture, transport, manufacturing, retail, services, etc., depending on their preferences for how they want to use the assistance. A single unit set up under the scheme can comprise multiple sub-units within the same or different sectors. For instance, a unit may involve both dairy farming and poultry. In some cases, multiple beneficiaries can join together to create a joint unit, with the project cost exceeding Rs 10 lakh. 

Several incidents have been reported, where Dalits staged protests demanding transparent implementation of the scheme and alleged that beneficiaries on good terms with the MLA benefited majorly. Activists allege that in some constituencies, MLAs have sought about 30 percent of the scheme amount as ‘commission’ in exchange for recommending the beneficiaries’ names to the district collector. “There are instances where the beneficiaries had to take out loans to pay about Rs 3 lakh to the followers of MLA to get their names on the list,” said M Padmanabha Reddy, secretary of Forum for Good Governance. 

In December 2022, the Telangana High Court ruled that MLAs cannot select beneficiaries anymore, and instead directed that a government-appointed committee review applications and select beneficiaries. 

However, community members continued their protests even after the HC ruling. Earlier in October, several women from the community organised a rally at BRS MLA Madan Lal’s camp office in Khammam. In August this year, alleging bias in the selection of beneficiaries, a group of Dalits from Ankireddypally village in Kondapaka mandal of Siddipet district staged a protest. In October, Dalits from three villages – Nerella, Jagadevpet, and Ramaiahpally in Jagtial district staged a demonstration in front of the Panchayat office in Dharmapuri Mandal alleging an unfair selection process due to recommendations. 

According to a report by Forum for Good Governance (FGG), in Vasalamarri – a village adopted by KCR, where the scheme was implemented in saturation mode – it was discovered that 75 people were receiving benefits even though there were only 52 Dalit families. The hurry to meet targets during this saturation mode meant that beneficiaries were given something by the district administration, but not necessarily what would have helped them.

“Seventeen of the beneficiaries were given automobiles (tractors, goods vehicles, etc.), which they had to sell because they didn’t have a driving licence, which meant they would have to hire a driver or high fuel prices became a challenge. The district administration should have conducted a market survey and assisted in setting up a unit accordingly. They should also conduct review inspections and help the unit operate. However, the administration desires to do a simple job,” said M Padmanabha Reddy, secretary of FGG. 

Amid the corruption allegations, KCR reportedly warned party MLAs at the BRS plenary meeting in April this year against extorting money from Dalit Bandhu and 2-BHK housing scheme beneficiaries. “KCR has admitted that he knew legislators were taking ‘commissions’ for the Dalit Bandhu scheme. But was action taken against these legislators?” asked Jilakara Srinivas, state president of Vimuktha Chiruthala Kakshi (VCK), the Telangana unit of the Tamil Nadu-based party. “KCR's speeches give the impression that he is being philanthropic, but these policies are the rights of Dalits,” he said.

Land distribution scheme 

Preceding the Dalit Bandhu scheme was the land distribution scheme announced by BRS during the assembly election campaign of 2014. According to the Telangana government, there are approximately 18 lakh Dalit households. Under this land distribution scheme, three acres would be allocated to economically disadvantaged SC women from landless agricultural families. The scheme carries a unit cost (one beneficiary) of Rs 21 lakh, with a maximum of Rs 7 lakh per acre. It includes a comprehensive agricultural support package – provisions for irrigation, seeds, cultivation costs, fertilisers, pesticides, and more for a single crop year, all funded by a 100 percent subsidy to facilitate one year of crop assistance.

KCR once stated in the assembly in 2015, "This is our flagship programme. MLAs should urge landlords and NRIs to sell their lands to the government to meet this goal. Bring as many applications as possible. We will review all of them.” He said that the primary aim was to reach completely landless beneficiaries first and then include those with 1.5 or 2 acres, providing them additional land to achieve the three-acre target.

There was mounting pressure from the opposition about inadequate beneficiary coverage. When this was raised during discussions in the assembly in 2021, CM KCR remarked that he never promised three acres of land, and there was a lack of government land for distribution. Political critics raised questions about KCR’s credibility. 

As of April 2018, the government had acquired 14,282.37 acres of land and distributed it to 5,607 beneficiaries. As per the State Scheduled Caste Corporation, only 6,900 people had received land between 2014-2023 with Rs 729 crore spent under the scheme over the past nine years.

When asked if the scheme has been stalled, Karunakar denied it and explained that land costs have substantially risen since the scheme's announcement (over a decade). “Due to increased irrigation facilities and free power supply, the value has gone up. As a result, private landlords are now reluctant to sell their land at the government-prescribed unit cost…If there is land available, we will purchase and distribute.” 

“The government claims they do not have money and land. Haven't they earned thousands of acres by selling lands in Kokapet in the name of real estate?..The government claims it is acquiring lands for projects. It is due to the lack of commitment towards the community that the government is unable to purchase lands for Dalits. Dalit Bandhu scheme was announced so that the government can allocate Rs 10 lakh per beneficiary instead of Rs 21 lakh under land distribution scheme,” Shankar said. 

Anti-caste activists say Dalits are frustrated by KCR's broken promises and may cast anti-KCR votes to the Congress party. “There is awareness among Dalits now. Except for the beneficiaries, who are a small number, I believe that Dalits will cast anti-KCR votes,” Shankar said. 

Journalist and political analyst Veekshanam Venugopal however told TNM in an interview that Dalit Bandhu helped a section of Dalits and they have been co-opted into the BRS. “The ones co-opted are around 10-15 percent of Dalits. Then there is another section which feels they will get these benefits in the future. But another half of people have become dissenters. In every policy, there is a small section of beneficiaries, there is a section who hopes for benefits in the future, and there is a large section who have gone against.”

This report has been published as part of the joint NL-TNM Election Fund and is supported by hundreds of readers. Click here to power our ground reports.


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