Updated: April 17, 2020 8:22:35 pm
The government Friday provided exemptions to a few more areas from the purview of the ongoing lockdown which includes collection, harvesting and processing of minor forest produce, among many other things, to ensure sustenance of forest-dwelling tribal population.
In a communication to all States and Union Territories, Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla said that “collection, harvesting and processing of minor forest produce (MFP), non-timber forest produce (NTFP) by Scheduled Tribes and other forest dwellers in forest areas” were also allowed.
This has been done keeping in view the loss of livelihood in wake of the lockdown for the forest-dwelling tribal population, pegged at five crore. It is also learnt that the Ministry of Tribal Affairs was getting reports of distress sales and starvation from some tribal pockets in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, due to which such an exemption became the need of the hour.
An official from the Ministry explains, “NTFP is the mainstay of forest-based tribal economy, and March-May is the peak of NTFP season. Whatever the tribal families earn from collection, processing and sale of NTFP during these three months, provides them with cash for the rest of the year. The total value of tribal produces (NTFP + farm) is estimated at Rs.2,00,000 crore a year. If the tribals fail to generate this amount from the market, the financial burden for sustaining them through the year will fall on the government.”
Last week, Union Tribal Affairs Minister Arjun Munda had written a letter to 15 chief ministers — including that of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Odisha and UP — talking about the impending crisis. “The peak season for collecting and harvesting MFP had arrived in many regions,” Munda wrote in the letter dated April 6. It is “imperative to initiate certain proactive measures to ensure the well-being of the tribal communities and their economy based on MFPs and NTFPs by providing them safety and ensuring their livelihoods,” it said.
Munda urged chief ministers to ensure the collection of MFPs by their respective states and eliminating the movement of middlemen from urban to tribal areas. Market forces would try to exploit tribal gatherers by pushing them for the distress sale of NTFP, Munda said in the letter. “Consequently, six states had, in good earnest, allowed for gathering of forest produce in the last one week, worth Rs 30-40 crore,” says Pravir Krishna, MD, TRIFED, the nodal agency coordinating tribal livelihood schemes on behalf of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs.
Additionally, the Centre is also planning to increase the minimum support price (MSP) of MFP by 16-30%. The list of products will include 20 new items such as cardamom, turmeric and ginger, ban tulsi, ban jeera and raw bamboo brooms. Forest products collected by tribals in northeastern states will also be included. The ministry is likely to increase the MSP of 50 such MFP products. A decision regarding this was taken at a high-level meeting attended by 26 states through video conferencing a couple of days ago.
A week after the lockdown was announced, The Indian Express had reported that the government has prepared a blueprint to role out relief measures for forest-dwelling tribals — free ration, exemptions and digital awareness programmes. It also comprised using the Van Dhan Centres as tribal help centres, which were recently created under the Pradhan Mantri Van Dhan Yojana, to improve tribal incomes through value addition of tribal products. The 15,000 centres across the country are being converted into “Social Distancing Awareness cum Livelihood Centres”, a Ministry official said.
Minister of State of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Renuka Singh, had told the 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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