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Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Arjun Munda: ‘Forests can be saved by honouring tribal rights vested in the Forest Rights Act’

The psychology of tribals needs to be understood for effectively integrating them in the mainstream, says Arjun Munda.

Written by Abhishek Angad | New Delhi | Updated: September 16, 2019 12:00:53 pm
Arjun Munda, tribal rights, Forest Rights Act, India Forest Rights Act, save forests, environment, Indian express Arjun Munda.

Union Tribal Affairs Minister Arjun Munda believes that money is not the only thing when focusing on tribal development; he says the psychology of tribals needs to be understood for effectively integrating them in the mainstream. In an interview with The Indian Express, he also elaborated on the government’s stand on the Forest Rights Act. Edited excerpts:

You spoke of the Modi government’s 100 days performance in a press conference. What is the report card of your 100 days?

We are deliberating on how to give proper education in rural India and create opportunities. Tribals are a focus area because in various parameters they are below the national average. We are also focusing on the scattered population that lives in forest areas so that it benefits from all (welfare) schemes. We are measuring the outcomes of all such schemes and it is a big responsibility. The constitutional rights of tribals have not been given to them. How do we address (this gap) in less time. This is the mandate that the Modi government has given to me. For example, we are starting 462 residential Eklavya schools so that the education among the tribals increases.

But a CAG report on social sectors ending March 2017, tabled January 2019, of one state — Madhya Pradesh — pointed out glaring lapses such as inadequate infrastructure in such Eklavya schools. Jharkhand will also get 69 new Eklavya schools, but the state also has its own share of problems. How do you aim to monitor them?

There is a structure now in place for these schools with regular monitoring, like how it happens in Navodaya Vidyalayas. Earlier money was allotted to the states, which used to run these schools, and in some areas, they did not function properly. Now there is a different system altogether.

The NFHS-4 shows significant nutritional gaps in tribal children. What is the government’s plan to reduce it?

We are developing a monitoring system because various departments have been working for tribals. So we are coordinating to improve the traditional systems of dealing with these things constitutionally through Gram Sabha, the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) or PESA Act of 1996, and make people accountable.

Read | 100 days of Modi govt: Arjun Munda hails scrapping of J&K special status

But the Tribal Affairs Ministry has a limited budget while various other ministries and state governments have large chunks of money for tribal development. Is coordination an issue?

There are a lot of things which are being done which was not there in the past few years. We are monitoring it aggressively.

In a recent survey on maternity benefits showed that around 75% women did not receive cash benefits, despite applying for it? Tribals form most of this populace.

This is a state government issue and they have to pay more attention to it. After the state formation, Jharkhand has been growing but has to strive to make it better.

Forest Rights Act (FRA) was brought because the “historical injustice needed correction”. Recently a controversy erupted after the apex court ordered the eviction of these peoples whose claims were rejected. Later there was a stay and it was sough to know if the evictions were made on incomplete data or sketchy grounds…

All those people who are saying various things would be have been not in contact with the forest area. The matter is sub-judice and I will not go in the merits. However, people are saying that states which have 50 per cent of tribal communities in the areas containing are harmful ( for the ecology). But there are areas—including forest areas—comprising 90 % of the tribal population and the forests are still surviving. Why? Because they are linked with the forests. This seems to be a wrong understanding of this issue and it has to be corrected. Forests can be saved through tribal rights vested by the FRA. Our Ministry is monitoring it continuously and we want to increase the forest area and the people who stay there. We worry so much about forest biodiversity, why should not we worry about the people staying there? Communities living in the forest areas for ages cannot be evicted from the forest. We are trying to streamline this process that how do we integrate them in the development keeping their values intact.

During a visit to Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) colony in Ghatshila, near Jamshedpur, I saw that the community lived on subsistence. Their common food was rice and starch. Local authorities pointed out their inability to integrate. What is the reason for lack of development works despite the availability of funds? Recently you were quoted saying that out of Rs 250 crore released by the Centre, only Rs 12.3 crore was utilized by the states. Why?

At first, a psychological study on these people is a must to work along with them. (which is not the case). Based on the study one has to analyse what are they thinking and what kind of values they have and we have to encourage it. It is a time taking process and it has to be dealt with patiently. Many people think money is most important for development. If any patient is not given diagnosis based medicine and rather hypothetically, it may suit him, or may not. Therefore, there will be no benefits to the investments done without a diagnosis. Therefore, one has to understand their mentality and get things done. Hence, I am stressing on education. We are planning to do work in this area through a research team shortly. Regarding unutilized funds, I am visiting various states and looking into it.

Recently, The Indian Express reported that a tribal family in Gumla gave up their child due to financial crisis at home. There is no pension, ration, Ujjwala scheme. Somehow the most vulnerable don’t get the benefits of the schemes.

This is a state issue and I will not comment. But if this thing happened then there will be some inefficient people in the local administration who cannot see these things on the ground. State government should look into it.

Climate Resilient Observing Systems Promotion Council study says that there are “severe and fast extinction” of few tribal communities—Birhor, Pahadiya, Ho—in the Chotanagpur Plateau due to lightning strikes. They need to be given lightning protection to prevent their extinction. Any plans of the Ministry?

There could be a scientific reason. In North-Eastern states, they are called hill tribes who live on the peak. They don’t seem to be affected. A detailed study needs to be done on this.

Recently you visited North-Eastern states. What is the difference between the tribes and those from Jharkhand, Odisha, Chattisgarh is terms of governance.

I am still reviewing a lot of areas.

One of the other major issues surrounding tribal population was the issue of Pathalgadi in Jharkhand. People got disillusioned, but how far it is correct to put sedition cases against them.

The state government should review this. Also, social activists should be roped and the authorities should envisage a better way to deal with the issue. Confusion occurs in a family too, and some people rake up the issue in the community, which is purely selfish, and the society and people are deeply affected. But, I think, overall the understanding has to be bettered and then it should be looked into.

Since 2017, around 90 people in Jharkhand — including tribals — have been lynched in the name of Witchcraft practices. Clearly, people are misinformed or lack education… Do you think it is a direct impact lack of health infrastructure?

In some cases, I have felt that after the initial reporting there is no deep investigation. Clearly, there are cases where the issues are different, but police do not investigate in those areas and just do their formalities. We are deliberating on effective ways to make people aware to stop these incidents. Human fears cannot be put in a cupboard and it will persist, but the incidents can be reduced through awareness…It could be due to lack of health facilities, but only in a few cases.

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