Home arrow Archives arrow Open Forum arrow Open Forum 2006 arrow The Neglected Tribals:Will New Policy bring Transformation? Dhurjati Mukherjee,12 September 2006
News and Features
INFA Digest
Parliament Spotlight
Journalism Awards
The Neglected Tribals:Will New Policy bring Transformation? Dhurjati Mukherjee,12 September 2006 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 12 September 2006

The Neglected Tribals

Will New Policy bring Transformation?

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

The condition of the poor and the underprivileged in India is a story of neglect and government efforts in this direction have not quite been successful in yielding tangible results. The tribals, who constitute the major segment of the poor and the backward in the country, are spread in almost all States and have been at the receiving end over the years.

It may also be mentioned here that a major segment of the tribal population lives below the poverty line and suffers from a high infant mortality rate, severe malnutrition, various communicable diseases, lower literacy rates and an extremely slow pace of development. Coupled with this, the inadequacy of social and physical infrastructure in the tribal areas has accentuated their problems. 

The land owned by the tribals is, in most cases, infertile. Moreover taking advantage of their illiteracy and ignorance, there has been a steady transfer of resources from tribal to non-tribal areas. To compound the problem further, displacement or forced eviction of tribals from their natural habitats due to various developmental activities has for long been a serious problem.

Keeping this problem into consideration, the draft National Tribal Policy has been formulated. Some of its objectives include empowerment of tribal communities to promote self-governance and self-rule as per the provisions and spirit of the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act,1996; protection of political rights to ensure greater and active participation of tribals in political bodies at all levels; provision of legislative frame for rehabilitation and resettlement and provide for social and opportunity cost in addition to market value of land; and protection and vesting of rights on forest land and other forest rights.

While though such a Policy should have been implemented long back, the initiative taken at this juncture also needs to be commended. In tune with the objectives of the Policy, a Tribal Rights Bill has been formulated and this has generated much discussion as it proposes to correct the “historical injustice” done to tribes by denying them rights to forest land and resources.

It may be mentioned here that the Bill was introduced in Parliament in December 2005 and was referred to a Joint parliamentary Committee. The Committee submitted its report this year and recommended large number of changes in the Bill, converting it into a Forest Dwellers’ Rights Bill. Both the environment ministry and conservationists were up in arms against the parliamentary panel report. The apprehensions that such recommendations will result in the death of forest and wildlife do not have much basis. The overriding powers granted to the gram sabha for protecting the rights of forest dwellers would not erode the status of our forests but help in its development.  

Over 60 per cent of India’s forests are proposed to be handed over to 8.2 per cent of its population. There are apprehensions that in the garb of tribal rights, the mafia, which already exploits forest produce, may get more powers with enactment of the Bill. However, there is need to implement the Bill and see what actually happens as such apprehensions may not always turn out to be correct if the local government takes necessary measures to curb the mafia. 

The Policy has outlined that the states should enact legislation to provide tenurial security by recognizing the rights of forest dwelling to scheduled tribes over forest land under cultivation, ownership of marketing forest produce, including rights to produce, trade and process the same. Another important aspect is to help small-scale forest based entrepreneurs by ensuring steady supply of necessary inputs as also technical assistance so that rural people get better prices for these products and secure a sustainable livelihood.   

The need for looking into tribal welfare has unfortunately not been considered a prerequisite to development. Just through reservations one cannot think of upgrading the lives of the tribal community, much more needed to have been done. The reservation policy has only helped a small segment of the scheduled tribe community get the benefits while the majority has languished in poverty and squalor. It is thus quite appropriate that these measures have to be viewed in proper perspective so that the community at large could benefit and join the mainstream of life and activity.

In fact, forestry could help in a big way to uplift the conditions of the tribal people and ensure for them a better livelihood. The whole strategy of opening up opportunities for them in forest areas would not only help this community but go a long way in gearing up the process of rural development in the backward regions of the country. On the other hand, it is through the tribal community that regeneration of forests could be ensured as the State could stop illegal felling while promoting self-help groups for afforestation activities of long, medium and short-term diverse species. 

Apart from forestry, typical types of cultivation will have to be encouraged. Shifting cultivation known as jhum or podu is a form of agriculture, practiced by this community in areas where no other mode of cultivation may be feasible. The practice is prevalent mainly in the North East and in states like Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Jharkhand. This could be encouraged as such cultivation practices (mostly in fallow land) protects and supports collective ownership of natural resources.

The economic condition of the tribal community has to be reversed so that they could be ensured of a dignified existence in an era where the growth of the economy has been quite fast. All types of reservations (including the present one for OBCs in educational institutions) have no meaning if the grassroot population are ensured better livelihood, obviously through better employment opportunities and steady incomes.---INFA

 (Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)



< Previous   Next >
  Mambo powered by Best-IT