Days after taking charge, Tribal Affairs Minister Jual Oram talks about his vision for the ministry and the need for a greater say in granting environmental and forest clearances, and for making rehabilitation of displaced tribals a priority.
You were the tribal affairs minister when the ministry was first carved out in 1999. What have its key achievements since then been?
The Forest Rights Act, which I drafted, was passed by the UPA and some people have got pattas under it. Two, some regulations have been implemented… But instead of a postmortem on what has happened, I would rather talk about what I plan to do now.
What are your priorities?
This community is very self-respecting. They stay in far-flung areas, away from populated regions. Before trying to solve their problems, it is important to win their hearts. It is important they come and talk to us openly so we can find solutions. A big problem for them is education and that is an area of priority. Another problem is health. There are no qualified doctors in these areas… Livelihood too is a big problem. They rely on forest produce, which is often seasonal. There is no proper marketing for their produce.
What powers does the ministry need?
All dams, industries, mining are in tribal areas today. They [industry houses] spend some amount in the name of Corporate Social Responsibility but the ministry has no say in that. Further, in the matter of clearances — environment, forest etc — other ministries have a say but this one does not. This ministry should be involved in the process of clearances. We will slowly try to influence this and ensure we are involved and our opinion is taken.
There is often a debate between industrialisation/mining and the need to preserve the lifestyles of tribals.
I believe there should be rehabilitation first. People just bring projects and then say they will face delays, escalation costs. I oppose this. I am not against mining or industrialisation, but only if we [tribals] are rehabilitated to our satisfaction. Development is important but so are we. We should be the priority, we too are humans and it’s not like you can just cut us off and throw us on the road.
What if the MoEF gives clearance, but you are not happy about it?
As per the law today, you have PESA, you have gram sabhas whose consent is important. These are our strengths and we will try to utilise them forcefully.
Do you plan any new policy or legislation?
We will see. Right now the most important, continuous process is that of inclusion and exclusion of communities — the revision of the Scheduled list.
What about the pending National Tribal Policy?
It is a priority. I had started the deliberations when I was the minister earlier. We will study it now. We had set up a Bhuria Commission but nothing was done on its recommendations in the last 10 years. We will study them and will come up with a tribal policy.