The government has prepared a blueprint to role out relief measures for forest-dwelling tribals, which includes free ration, exemptions and digital awareness programmes. Keeping in view the loss of livelihood in wake of the lockdown due to the coronavirus for the tribal population, which is pegged at 8.6 per cent of India’s total population, the plan is to use the Van Dhan Centres as tribal help centres.
The 15,000 centres across the country are being converted into “Social Distancing Awareness cum Livelihood Centres”, a Ministry of Tribal Affairs official said. Since the government anticipates tribal livelihood due to the COVID-19 situation will be long-drawn, more such centres will be created in the coming days, he added.
The proposal, according to the official, includes using these centres as a focal point for distribution of masks and sanitisers to the tribal population free of cost, as well as dissemination of information regarding social distancing and other hygiene measures. A request is also being made to the Ministry of Home Affairs to exempt tribal haat bazaars from the lockdown, as has been done in the case of mandis in urban and semi-urban areas, he said.
Van Dhan centres were recently created under the Pradhan Mantri Van Dhan Yojana, and aim to improve tribal incomes through value addition of tribal products. The scheme is being implemented through TRIFED (Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India) as the nodal agency by involving tribal self-help groups.
TRIFED managing director Pravir Krishna said, “One member from each self help group is now being identified, who is comfortable with using smartphone technology and video-calling. He will be guided by our officials on precautionary measures and social distancing, so that he can spread awareness among his peers.”
For the most part, the person’s home will function as temporary Van Dhan Centre, where masks and sanitisers procured from district authorities and local vendors will be sent across, for free distribution among the tribals.
The Ministry of Tribal Affairs official said that there are reports of distress sales and starvation from some tribal pockets in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar. For this, Rs 50-75 crore is being set aside to infuse cash into the hands of these “five crore forest-dwelling tribals” so that they can buy essential supplies. However if the lockdown extends beyond April 14, the official said they may need more cash to help forest-dwelling tribals.
Meanwhile, the governments of all states with a tribal population, barring Punjab and Haryana, have also been to activate the Minimum Support Price for the minor forest produce scheme to support tribal gatherers. A detailed proposal in this regard was prepared on Tuesday, Krishna said.
Minister of State of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Renuka Singh, told The Indian Express, “We will be talking to states to allow these tribals to collect forest produce and allow them to sell them at tribal haats, following adequate social distancing measures.”
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