Development and tribal welfare must be synchronous, says Deo

G. Srinivasan New Delhi | Updated on June 18, 2019

Mr Kishore Chandra Deo

Against the ongoing conflict and controversy over the exploitation of minerals and commercial use of forest lands with environmental evangelists keeping an eagle vigil, the battle lines are distinctly drawn. Should the country's high growth trajectory be allowed to slip if the hurdles to evolve a balance of benefits to all stakeholders are not tackled?

More than the issue of growth, what is at stake are the rights of tribals and traditional forest-dwellers who have been waging a losing battle to the glee of extremist and fissiparous forces such as Naxalism definitely rearing its ugly head in States such as Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, West Bengal and Bihar.

In order to get a grip on what assails the tribals and how their jitters should be jettisoned to bring them into the mainstream of development, Business Line spoke to the new Union Minister for Tribal Affairs, Mr V. Kishore Chandra Deo, who is taking charge on Thursday.

Being affable and articulate, this five-time Lok Sabha Member from Araku constituency in north coastal Andhra Pradesh who hails from a Scheduled Tribe community Konda Dore, Mr Deo asserts that he would try to maintain “certain mode of coordination” with related Ministry colleagues involving rural development and environment to ensure that the real benefits of development reach the tribals, neglected for long.

Following are the excerpts from the interview Mr Deo gave from his Lodi Estate residence here.

How do you ensure safety of tribals and forest-dwellers against Naxal menace and how it should be dealt with so that the conflict between development and environment should not cause derailment of development in general and damage the weal of the tribal people in particular?

I see extremism of any kind as a result of severe socio-economic problems in those regions with regard not only to tribals but also to traditional forest-dwellers within the region. Lack of development and basic facilities have together led to the upsurge of this kind of reaction.

This has to be dealt with politically. It is not merely a law and order problem and you cannot contain or assuage the feeling by treating it merely as a law and order one.

Socio-economic problems have to be dealt with on a war-footing. These people make a living out of minor forest product cultivating coarse grains.

Since the Indian Forest Act was enacted in 1927 by colonial rulers and subsequently governments later on, they were promising this category of people land rights for their minor produce cultivation but nothing was done for several years.

When in 1972, Mrs Indira Gandhi enacted the Wildlife Protection Act, it was stated that the rights of the forest-dwellers would be restored but in the Forest Act of 1980 this was not there. So one of the major steps in UPA-I was the enactment of the Forest Rights Act which was referred to a Select Committee under my chairmanship. I was fortunate to have a consensus of my colleagues and based on this report the Act was enacted in 2007 end which was “a basic, crucial and primary step” for tribal welfare.

But the implementation has to be done by the State Governments. One of my first efforts will be to ensure that the Forest Rights Act is implemented effectively not only in letter but in spirit also so that the traditional forest-dwellers get their pattas or due rights which were actually pre-existing over a century. Second, mineral wealth has also become a cause of concern and conflict. Even with the agreements of the tribals and with the sanction of the Gram Sabhas if you want to take land for any other purpose, there is no basis by which to rehabilitate them and give compensation unless you confer these rights on them.

One has also to take a decision on the land acquisition policy for development or natural park purpose. Politically we have to decide whether mining should be allowed in these areas for commercial purposes.

I personally feel that mineral wealth should be declared as a national wealth. If you need mineral wealth for industry or any specific purpose even as various countries are preserving their own resources and we fritter our raw ores away for pittance, these resources would become scarce. So a proper decision should be taken.

In my own Araku constituency there was a proposal to exploit bauxites in the district of Vishakhapatnam but I opposed it because biosphere would have been affected and source of rivers would have dried up. Now this high altitude area has become a tourist spot and horticulture, coffee and pepper cultivation are booming. My approach is to ensure that tribal people get a fair share of the benefits and their exploitation is stopped.

On the third-tier Panchayati Raj administration for delivery of benefits to local people.

We have to ensure that the provisions of the Panchayti raj act would have to be implemented and any contrived resolution by the Gram Sabhas should be penalised. The Act covers 50 per cent of the country's geographical area.

The Centre can play a kind of catalytic and monitoring role as it transfers funds to the States which disburse them to the local bodies. Where there are gaps, the Centre can move as per the provisions of the Act to ensure that the objectives are achieved.


Published on July 13, 2011

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