Published: 24th December 2021
Days after SC, ST students gherao Karnataka CM Bommai's car asking for laptops, Rani Channamma varsity agrees to pay for it from internal funds
Reports state that due to cash crunch during the nationwide lockdown from March to May last year, the state gov't diverted Rs 5,000 crore meant for the welfare of SCs/STs citing “deemed expenditure"
Just days after SC and ST students of Karnataka's Rani Channamma University gheraoed Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai's car demanding distribution of laptops which had been promised to them, the varsity officials said that it will use its own funds and distribute the devices latest by the first week of February 2022. The government has not yet disbursed funds to the varsity under the Scheduled Castes Sub Plan (SCSP) and Tribal Sub Plan (TSP) that would enable them to buy the laptops.
Dr Chandrakant Waghmare, in-charge of the SC/ST/OBC Cell at the varsity, told Edexlive that the varsity has about 100 laptops with them at the moment. However, there are a total of 316 postgraduate students from reserved categories who need laptops. "Even before the students took to protests, we had decided to take funds out of internal university sources and distribute laptops to all at once by next month. The budget would be adjusted as soon as the government disburses funds," he said. "There are a lot of technicalities that need to be taken care of in such matters so that audit problems do not happen. We had no idea that students would start protesting. They should have spoken to us before doing so, we were already in the process of it," Waghmare added.
The free laptop scheme was launched by the BS Yediyurappa administration whereby laptops are distributed to the final year postgraduate students in the state using funds under SCSP and TSP. Waghmare added that while the varsity sought permission in September from the government to use the remaining Rs 43 lakh for the same from the total amount disbursed under the scheme in the earlier years. There was no response from the authorities. However, he said that in a verbal follow-up regarding the matter, the concerned authorities assured them that SCSP and TSP funds would be released soon.
Shivkumar Naik, a second-year MA Sociology student, said that the students have taken Waghmare's word and have called off the protest. "We do not have a written confirmation from the university but we have Prof Waghmare on video," he said.
Naik said that he and many students like him hail from remote villages. "Some of us have our final year assignments pending because we don't have laptops," he said. Not having laptops was moreover a problem during the lockdown for the reserved category students. "There were network issues in our villages and the data pack was additional expenditure," he said. Students have warned of another strike if the laptops are not disbursed next month.
But why is there a delay in the disbursement of funds under SCSP and TSP funds? Waghmare said that the funds were diverted for emergency expenses after the pandemic hit. A recent report in The Hindu states that amidst a severe financial crunch during the nationwide lockdown from March to May last year, the state government diverted Rs 5,000 crore meant for the welfare of SC/ST communities citing the “deemed expenditure” clause.
However, the report points out that the Karnataka SCP and TSP (Planning, Allocation and Utilisation of Resources) Act, 2013, does not allow such bulk transfers. The report added that the spending under the SCP and TSP budget remains low — by September 2021, Rs 5,885.49 crore of the total budgetary allocation of Rs 18,331.54 crore (32.11 per cent) has been spent as part of SCSP while Rs 2,200.81 crore of the total allocation of Rs 7,673.47 crore (28.68 per cent) has been spent under TSP.