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‘Tribal communities more confident’

In a candid interview with Anjali Bhatia, minister for Tribal affairs Arjun Munda, spoke about the steps being taken.

Anjali Bhatia | New Delhi |

Tribals constitute approximately 8.6 per cent of the population of India, around 10.4 crore people. Over 705 Scheduled Tribes are notified under Article 342 of the Constitution of India.

In keeping with the vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas’, the Union Government is focusing on the development and preservation of tribes and their cultural heritage as a priority.

Taking forward his vision of tribal welfare and development to transform tribal communities, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs has launched various innovative schemes and initiatives.

In a candid interview with Anjali Bhatia, minister for Tribal affairs Arjun Munda, spoke about the steps being taken.

Q: What are the steps taken by the government in the last eight years for the uplift of the tribals?

A: With its numerous programmes and initiatives, the Ministry has significantly improved the welfare of India’s tribal population in the past few years. During the last eight years, the Central Government has taken many steps in the public and national interest for the betterment of every class, which has changed the image of the country. The Ministry of Tribal Development has doubled the amount of funds for grassroots initiatives in tribal areas through aid to voluntary organisations.

The programme now funds around 180 NGOs that serve the indigenous community in a variety of fields. The Ministry’s Monitoring Cell for grants-handling is fully digitised.

The Pradhan Mantri Mantri Janjati Vikas Mission (PMJVK) aims to improve socio-economic infrastructure facilities for tribal communities by following a convergence approach with other Ministries under the Scheduled Tribe Component. The Ministry’s Pradhan Mantri Van Dhan Vikas Karyakram aims to tap into the traditional knowledge and skill of the tribals. Multi-purpose Kendras are established in predominantly tribal districts. The Kendras act as common facility centres for procurement-cum-value addition to locally available Minor Forest Produce. Van Dhan Vikas Kendras are transforming livelihoods by transforming rural and tribal economies in the future.

In 2013-2014, Rs 217.30 crore was the budget outlay; by 2021, it had increased to Rs 355 crore. As many as 75 tribal communities have been categorised as Particularly Vulnerable for whom Conservation-cum-Development programmes are being implemented.

Q: Has the government constituted any scholarship scheme for the students of the tribal community?

A: The government understands that tribal communities lay great focus on traditional and cultural practices. I feel happy and proud to share with you that under the successful leadership of the Prime Minister, the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs is encouraging tribal students for higher education, and the ministry is implementing five scholarship schemes, Pre/Post Matric, National Fellowship Scheme, National Scholarship (Top Class) and National Overseas Scholarship. Under the prematric scholarship, funds to the tune of Rs 394.14 crore were disbursed to 8,18,097 students in 18 states and under the post-matric scholarship, more than Rs.2256.811 crore was disbursed among 14,18,385 students in 23 states.

The Prime Minister envisioned and implemented such a platform which is error-free and ensures that the intended beneficiary receives his/her benefit on time and that no beneficiary is inconvenienced, due to the implementation of the system of Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT).

The objective of DBT is to bring transparency, eliminate misuse of funds and better monitor the schemes implemented by the Government of India. This has resulted in an increase in the number of genuine students availing scholarships due to reduction in cases of duplication and forgery. Eklavya Model Residential Schools across the country are providing quality education to tribal children for their all-around development.

Q: There is the problem of malnutrition and anaemia in tribal children. What are your plans for health awareness?

A: 80 per cent of the chronically undernourished tribal children live predominantly in eight states of Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Odisha. About 40 per cent of under-five tribal children in India are stunted, and 16 per cent of them are severely stunted. Tribal children have higher levels of undernutrition compared to children of socially, economically advanced sections.

A supplementary nutrition programme for pregnant women and lactating mothers has helped improve coverage of the national Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme. Another important aspect of fighting malnutrition is to improve the quality of nutrition, their availability, and to attack misconceptions, social evils and norms.

Now that state governments are providing nutritious food and supplements, such as IFA tablets, to fight malnutrition, food is prepared and served in iron utensils at Anganwadi centres in Haryana. Anganwadi workers promote the use of iron utensils even in household kitchens.

Due to this, the nutrients in the food of the people have increased and the problem of anemia has been solved to a great extent. The Health Department has identified easily available and cheap, nutritious food by analysing different areas in different states of the country according to agriculture and seasons.

This way, efforts are being made to provide nutritious food at low cost. Anaemia screening in schools, providing safe drinking water and sanitation etc. has been initiated in EMRS schools along with Nutrition and Mental Health Training Modules specially designed for EMRS and ashram schools.

Q: Tribals face lack of basic amenities. What is the government doing to provide them food, nutrition, education, and income?

A: The health of tribal children is also being tracked with regular monitoring by the Ministry Health Department. Poshan Vatikas are being established in various tribal districts, by district offices, NGOs, and Eklavya Model Residential Schools.

The problem of malnutrition is dealt with in coordination with the Ministry of Women and Child Development. NESTS is an autonomous organisation under the Ministry of Education and aims to build capacities of teachers and students and to identify hidden talent amongst tribal youth.

It has collaborated with CBSE and NCERT for Innovation Ambassador Programmes and National Initiative for School Heads and Teachers Holistic Advancement.

Q: What has been done so far to bring the tribals into the mainstream?

A: Several provisions have been incorporated in the Constitution for safeguarding and promoting the interests and rights of the Scheduled Tribes. Provisions of Article 46, Article 15 (4), Article 16 (4) of the Constitution are implemented judiciously at the grassroots level. MoTA and MoEFCC had jointly issued a communication on 6 July 2021 to state governments to enable expeditious implementation of the Forest Rights Act for recognition and vesting of forest rights to Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dweller Communities.

The Panchayat (Extension of the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (PESA) was enacted by the Centre to ensure self-governance through Gram Sabhas for people living in scheduled areas. PESA legally recognises the right of tribal communities, residents of the scheduled areas, to govern themselves through their own systems of self-government. TRIFED, as the nodal agency under the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, has been working to improve the income and livelihoods of the tribal people, while preserving their way of life and traditions.

It has also put in place several initiatives to familiarise the people with the rich and diverse craft, culture of the tribal communities across the country and to help the tribal population in the area of marketing development of their rich products.

Q: What are the steps taken by the government to develop Naxal-affected areas?

A: The creation and strengthening of infrastructure has ensured that the governance reaches affected areas. The government is working on expansion of infrastructure, skill development, education, energy and digital connectivity in areas affected by Left Wing Extremism.

In 2017, to deal with the Naxal problem, the central government started an eight-point action plan called Samadhan. Operation Samadhan is an initiative launched by the Ministry of Home Affairs to solve the Naxalite problem in India.

It comprises smart leadership, aggressive strategy, motivation and training, actionable intelligence, dashboard-based key performance indicators and key result area, harnessing technology, an action plan for each threat and no access to financing.

The Education Ministry of Tribal Affairs is also setting up EMRS in Naxal-affected areas. The Union Cabinet has approved increasing the cost of construction of each school from Rs 20 crore for plain areas and Rs 24 crore for hilly/northeastern/left wing extremism affected areas to Rs 38 crore and Rs 48 crore respectively.

It is the belief of the Government of India that through a holistic approach focusing on development and security-related interventions, the LWE problem can be successfully tackled.

Q: How are you trying to connect Adivasis to social media?

A: Going Online as Leaders (GOAL) Programme by MoTA aims to provide skills for tribal youth. The programme intends to upskill and empower 5,000 tribal youth. It is designed to provide mentorship to tribal youth through digital mode.

The GOAL 2.0 initiative aims to digitally upskill over 10 lakh youth by promoting entrepreneurship amongst tribal communities of the country and introducing opportunities for them using digital technology. MoTA, in coordination with the Ministry of IT and Electronics, has proposed to provide six digital classes in 175 EMRS schools selected under the programme.

The project is being implemented by ERNET, which is an autonomous organisation under MeiTY through STC funds available with MeITY and 10 per cent funding is being done by NESTS. The Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) has a budget of Rs 203 crore for various programmes related to skill development of tribals during 2022-23. Focus has also been given to skilling on digital technology and Industry 4.0. National Skill Development Corporation under the aegis of MSDE has initiated online skilling through e-Skill India portal.

Q: Is conversion an issue in the tribal areas? If yes, what steps has the ministry taken to avoid any untoward incident?

A: Our Constitution grants all individuals Fundamental Rights to adopt any religion, and in this regard, it becomes essential that we do not overstep their individual decisions. However, educational and livelihood opportunities enable the tribal individuals to empower themselves and make their own informed decisions. For this reason, we are working at the grassroots level to sensitise them, raise their awareness level and develop their potential. With its concerted efforts and enduring commitment toward the welfare of tribals, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs has geared itself to ensure sectoral development through the enhanced allocation of financial resources, convergence of efforts of other line Ministries, the re-engineering of planning and implementation of schemes and more.

It is tirelessly working for the holistic welfare of the tribal communities of the nation in the Amrit Kaal marching towards the year 2047 with a firm conviction that our tribal brethren shall prosper in all spheres.

Q: Has the confidence level in tribal communities gone up?

A: It has undoubtedly increased. One such step to help tribal groups understand their importance is the choice to observe Birsa Munda’s birth anniversary on November 15 as “Janjatiya Gaurav Divas”. Linguistic, cultural, and other traditional identities have also been emphasised in the new education strategy. Also, emphasis is laid on the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Indian President Droupadi Murmu is the first woman from a tribal society to hold the office.