The Maharashtra government has taken up a proposal to spend funds from the targeted tribal sub-plan to offer concessions in the payment of electricity duty to industrialists who have invested in the state’s tribal pockets. Top sources said officials in the tribal development department (TDD) had strongly objected to the proposal initiated by the state-run power discom, Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited (MESDCL) or MahaVitran. The officials had contended that the tribal sub-plan funds were meant exclusively for tribal welfare, and that utilising them for such universal schemes would be a financial irregularity, said the sources.
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Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis reviewed the proposal Tuesday along with Tribal Development Minister Vishnu Savara and Energy Minister Chandrasekhar Bavankule. The sources said the ruling BJP was pushing the proposal since it was keen to project efforts to promote industrialisation in the least developed industrial pockets (D+ class areas) as an achievement of the government.
Despite the concerns raised by officials in his department, Savara, who is facing flak over death of tribal children due to malnourishment and accusations of irregularities in his ministry, has reportedly taken a view that the tribal sub-plan funds could be allocated if industrialists benefiting from the concession gave a commitment of offering employment to tribal families, and funding development efforts in tribal belts as part of corporate social responsibility (CSR).
A source said the minister wanted to brand the concessions offered to industrialists as his bid to develop tribal belts. Sensing this, Bavankule’s department has suggested that Savara’s ministry could project this as its own initiative. But officials in the tribal development department remain unconvinced. Softening their stand a little, department officials have now said the funds, if at all, could be utilised for the concession only in cases where the beneficiaries are industrialists and entrepreneurs from the tribal community.
The energy department’s proposal says Rs 120.85 crore would have to be utilised from the tribal sub-plan funds if the government decided to extend the concession across all tribal talukas, whereas the spending would be about Rs 63.42 crore if the perk is limited to 13 tribal talukas situated in D+ class areas. These include Dahanu, Mokhada, Jawahar, Talasari, Wada, Shahapur (in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region), Kalvan, Surgana, and Peth (Nashik), and Akkalkuwa, Navapur, and Akrani (in Nandurbar).
At least 6,118 industrial units are situated in state’s tribal belts, according to official estimates. These include 3,238 units in D+ class tribal talukas. These together consume 1,377 million units of power.
The energy department had earlier proposed to utilise around Rs 3,000 crore from the tribal sub-plan and SC/ST sub-plan to strengthen the electricity infrastructure in tribal and backward class belts. The sources confirmed that the proposal was withdrawn following similar objections raised by the tribal development and social justice departments.