India

SPARK: India


SPARK (Strengthening Public Accountability for Results and Knowledge) is an ambitious and innovative global program to arm marginalized groups and activists with the tools necessary to engage in budget processes and affect transformational change in their lives.

SPARK’s interventions in India are focused on empowering marginalized communities, specifically the Scheduled Castes (Dalits) and Scheduled Tribes (Adivasis), with the aim of bringing about transformational change in their lives and achieving social justice and equity.

The Problem

In India, the caste system has resulted in exacerbating inter-generational poverty and systemic deprivation of Dalits and Adivasis. Since these communities have been denied education for generations, they often lack the agency, know-how and resources to claim their rights and entitlements. Additionally, government programs for these marginalized communities are often under-resourced, under-utilized and under-accounted for, resulting in service delivery challenges.

Related Content

From the Open Budgets Blog:

  • Read more on NCDHR’s work with an emerging female Dalit leader during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Read more about SKA’s work with a Dalit woman who has mobilized relief distribution efforts for her community.

Access to education directly impacts the ability of those from Dalit and Adivasi communities to secure better livelihood opportunities. The government’s Post Matric Scholarship (PMS) scheme is a policy measure intended to support the higher education of students from these communities. However, the present socio-economic and political structures of India present multiple challenges for Dalit and Adivasi students in accessing PMS scholarships.

Even as the PMS accounts for the largest percentage of funds allocated for higher education ($.7 billion in 2020 from the national government), the demand for the scholarship does not match the approved budgets, preventing a large number of eligible students from accessing these funds. The scheme can serve approximately five million students in a year but due to poor planning, diversion of funds and a lack of accountability, the number of students supported is far less.

Manual scavengers – people who clean and dispose of human waste, often with no protection – are at the bottom of the caste hierarchy and face structural obstacles in accessing education, healthcare, employment benefits and other crucial government services. Legislation prohibiting this practice passed in 1993 but manual scavenging continued. Eventually, a new law was enacted in 2014 and the government designed the Self-Employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers (SRMS) to rehabilitate manual scavengers, compensate families of manual scavengers who have died, and help find alternative and gainful forms of employment for manual scavengers. While the national government allocated $14.3 million in FY 2019-2020 and $15.7 million in FY 2020 – 2021 for the SRMS scheme, funds have been consistently underutilized.

Malnutrition accounts for 69 percent of deaths of children under the age of five. Maharashtra, one of the wealthiest states in the country, continues to register some of the highest rates of malnutrition in the country, especially among the districts where scheduled tribes live. To address this challenge, the state created the Amrut Aahaar Yojana (AAY) scheme in Maharashtra. However, since its creation in 2016, the AAY scheme has been not been implemented effectively, resulting in massive underspending and limited impact on the levels of malnutrition throughout the state. As a direct result of underspending, budget allocations for AAY were cut by 30 percent in 2017 and 2018, despite the community’s dire need for program funds and resources.

Our Partners

IBP is partnering with organizations who work for the most marginalized communities in India.

  • National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) is a coalition of Dalit human rights activists and academics who aim to end caste-based discrimination and promote human rights. NCDHR’s strength lies in its ability to engage with diverse stakeholders to impact policy changes at all levels of government. Read more on NCDHR’s work with an emerging female Dalit leader during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Safai Karamchari Andolan (SKA) is a grassroots movement of manual scavengers that works to eliminate the shameful practice in India. SKA is led by liberated manual scavengers who challenge the status quo and fight to reclaim their right to dignity.
  • SATHI is a leading voice in the health rights movement in India that is based out of Pune in Maharashtra. Working with a rights-based approach, SATHI demands stronger public health services and seeks greater government accountability for improved service delivery.
  • The Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA) is a non-profit, non-partisan policy research organization based in New Delhi, India. In partnership with IBP, CBGA aims to strengthen the accountability ecosystem around budgets and build the capacity of SPARK partners to build evidence for strengthening policy engagement and budget related advocacy.

Our Work


Access to higher education

Working with the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR), IBP will engage with multiple stakeholders, including students’ groups, to build a bottom-up advocacy plan to identify and address the various implementation challenges facing the Post-Matric Scholarship (PMS) scheme and support students in claiming their scholarship entitlements. The project states include Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh.

Safeguarding the rights of manual scavengers

In partnership with Safai Karamchari Andolan (SKA), IBP is working to ensure the effective implementation of the Self-Employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers (SRMS) – the government scheme created to safeguard rights and rehabilitate manual scavengers. SKA will support manual scavengers as they claim their entitlements, document their experiences and use these to inform an alternative program that is more responsive to the needs of liberated manual scavengers.

SKA is also working to build a cohort of women who are knowledgeable about the budget issues underlying the effective implementation of the SRMS. These women budget champions will also lead in advocating with government, at both the national and lower levels. Their advocacy will be based on their understanding of the need for increasing budget allocations, implementation gaps within SRMS and engaging with relevant stakeholders. The project states include Delhi, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

Addressing malnutrition

SATHI is working with village community groups, community-based civil society groups and frontline health and creche workers to identify challenges behind the poor implementation of the Amrut Aahaar Yojana (AAY) – the state scheme in Maharashtra created to address malnutrition among tribal districts. SATHI has undertaken research that generated community-based data that will formulate and implement strategies targeted at improving the delivery of nutrition and health services among tribal districts.The project is focused in Maharashtra, and more specifically in the tribal districts of Thane, Raigad and Gadchiroli.

Case Study: Education Justice


The National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) has been working with Dalit and Adivasi students, civil society organizations and community-based organizations to ensure that students from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes have access to higher education, with a focus on the Post Matric Scholarship (PMS) scheme. Using the Right to Information Act, NCDHR analyzed budget documents and collected relevant information on PMS to campaign, organize student-led demonstrations, coordinate media engagement and hold pre-budget consultations with key stakeholders. As a result, the government released INR 60 billion ($.86 billion) for PMS in 2018-2019, up from INR 34.1 billion ($.49 billion) in 2017-2018.

This successful effort was truly a multi-stakeholder effort involving government officials from the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, Ministry of Finance, Parliamentary Standing Committee, the Comptroller General of India and members of Parliament, resulting in millions of Dalit and Tribal students across the country having access to higher education.