Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday stepped up efforts to strengthen the tribal fora in the party as he interacted with tribal leaders from across the country and heard their problems and grievances. According to sources, Gandhi held “free and frank” exchange of views with Congress tribal leaders and heard them patiently to evolve means to protect their interests.
Around 100 party leaders including sitting and former MPs and MLAs, past and present ministers from various states and other leaders representing the tribal community attended the meeting. The leaders from the North East will have a separate meeting with the Congress vice president. “Very useful meeting with tribal leaders of the Congress. Discussed issues of tribal welfare and ways to protect the interests of tribal communities,” he tweeted after the almost four-hour meeting.
Sources said Gandhi is mulling setting up a separate tribal affairs department besides the Scheduled Castes department. Kishore Chandra Deo, who was a tribal affairs minister during the UPA regime, also attended the meeting. He said the party vice president spent a lot of time and heard the problems faced by tribals.
“It was a good meeting as there was a free and frank exchange of views. Based on the discussions that took place, the party will move further and strengthen the tribal fora in the party both at the central and state level,” Deo told PTI. He said the leaders expressed the view that all the initiatives taken during the UPA regime for tribal welfare had been lost.
“Everything pertaining to tribal welfare has come to a halt under the NDA government, as it is felt that the initiatives taken during the UPA rule have not been taken forward,” he said. Deo also said that many steps taken during UPA tenure to improve the conditions of tribals, besides ensuring fixed minimum price for non-timber forest produce have not been taken forward.
The Congress leader said the forest rights act passed under the UPA rule has not been pursued further due to resistance from state forest departments and various vested interests. He also said that progress on changes in guidelines and rules to protect rights of tribals have also not been pursued. He also sought changes in the mining and minerals policy to protect tribal interests. Another Congress leader said Gandhi wanted to know about the problems suffered by tribals under the current regime and their perception about the party and the impediments they face in their growth in various states.
He said Gandhi sought to know if the party was taking up their concerns in the right manner and wanted to hear them out directly.
Deo said this government had even reduced the sub-plan allocations for the tribal sector and not much was invested in improving the education and health of tribals across India.