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SC/ST role in economy? India Inc in dark
Prasad Nichenametla in New Delhi
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July 19, 2007

While the United Progressive Alliance government wants to spread the spectacular gains made by India Inc in the last few years to scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, there are no reliable data on their participation in business, either as employees or as employers.

The government, industry and civil society groups agree they have no data, which they admit are the building blocks for any action for inclusive growth.

They, however, agree on one thing -- that the participation of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in business is low, zero in large enterprises, and slightly more in small enterprises. The representation in states like Jharkhand, where their population is high, could be slightly higher.

According to Economic Census, 1998, enterprise distribution under the social group of  'Owner' is 7.7 per cent for scheduled castes, 4 per cent for scheduled tribes and 33.1 per cent for other backward castes. Not only is the data almost a decade old, it is hotly contested by social activists.

"We completely disagree with these numbers. Dalits are being denied ownership in all fields. Even in kirana stores, their proportion is absolutely nil," said Paul Diwakar, convenor, National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights.

Rosemary Vishwanath, a Bangalore-based consultant who works on issues confronting the socially weaker sections, said, "I do not understand what they mean by an entrepreneur. I don't know whether we can term a roadside cobbler an entrepreneur."

Ashok Bharati, convenor, National Conference of Dalit Organisations, said, "Their entrepreneurship is almost negligible."

Milind Kamble of Pune-based 125-member Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said, "If the proportion of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in business was so high, what was the need for us to protest the economic imbalance all this while?"

However, Diwakar conceded there had been an improvement in the last three decades. "Some pockets of South India have seen a positive change, with Dalits entering fields like tourist services and prawn culture," he said.

There are other indications too. The Confederation of Indian Industry has been running an entrepreneurship development programme for young people from the economically weaker sections for several years.

"We now realise that most of them belong to scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Several of them have done well and employ a large number of people," said a functionary of the industry association.

The situation is not so good when it comes to estimating the number of scheduled caste and scheduled tribe employees in the private sector. While members of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry are averse to doing such a count, only 96 of CII's over 7,000 members have given such figures.

"The spread of such employees is between 5 per cent and 82 per cent. There are no trends in the data, except that their participation is more in areas where their population proportion is higher," said a CII functionary.

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