Nature Talk

HLC report: a lump in the throat!

Report of the High Level Committee (HLC) on the socio-economic, health and educational status of the tribal communities of India was submitted to the present NDA government on the 29th May, 2014, barely three days after the swearing-in. Seven months have passed, but it is intriguing that the government, as reported by the press is sitting over it for political reasons. Why the BJP-led NDA government should sit on a report, which contains observations critical of their predecessor Congress-led governments? Media also gives the reason for this: Several of the report's recommendations go against some of the changes the government is undertaking or contemplating to push for faster and easier industrialization. It is quite loud and clear that the present government swears by ‘development’, assures the corporations business friendly environment and ease in business, presents the temptation to ‘Make in India’ to foreign investors, zealously promises smart cities and urbanization to its youth and middle class. On the contrary this Report questions the development paradigm to which almost all mainstream political parties, irrespective of their colour and hues, are wedded to. The Report says, “As a part of the nation-building process, tribal areas have witnessed large-scale development of industry, mining, infrastructure projects such as roads and railways, hydraulic projects such as dams and irrigation. These have been followed by processes of urbanisation as well. The overall impact of these on tribes has been often loss of livelihood, massive displacement and involuntary migration.” The Report comes heavily on the State, when it observes, “Laws and rules that provide protection to tribes are being routinely manipulated and subverted to accommodate corporate interests. Tribal protests are being met with violence by the State's paramilitary forces and the private security staff of corporations involved” Such observations are indeed hard lumps to be swallowed in the current political dispensation, where ‘development’ is the buzzword and accommodation of corporate interests is perceived as a forceful propeller of ‘development’. This leaves the fate of the tribals open to speculation, particularly when, as this report records, "Tribal communities face disregard for their values and culture, breach of protective legislations, serious material and social deprivation, and aggressive resource alienation.” The question naturally arises: Does the prospect of worsening fortune loom large on the tribes of India?

In the name of tribals

Denial of funds to tribals either by way of diversion or reduction in allocation has been a commonplace practice of our administration. Needless to say, such denials are perceived as the cause of institutionalized deprivation of tribals. How it has taken place and to which activities the funds have been diverted is revealed in a recent study undertaken by The National Coalition For SCSP-TSP Legislation In this study, it is revealed that the funds meant for tribals have been diverted towards purchase of aeroplanes, construction of judiciary related structures like court buildings/residential buildings/police barracks in court campus / additional commandant houses/SDO houses/ buildings for honourable ministers, MLAs /senior officers’ / construction of eight houses for Hon’ble Judges (in Jharkhand), beautification of lakes and ponds, animal injections, building synthetic hockey turfs, raising State Industrial Protection Force (in Madhya Pradesh), to build capital assets for ‘Special Police’ and ‘Police’ among others.(in Chhatisgarh), modernisation of police and other forces, construction of jails, construction of police barracks, residential buildings for police through Odisha State Police Housing and Welfare Corporation, special funds for police training (in Odisha). What is most conspicuous is the diversion towards the fortification of police forces, jails etc., which some human right activists identify as ‘the repressive mechanisms of the state’. This is in sync with the HLC observation that “Tribal protests (against land alienation and involuntary displacement) are being met with violence by the State's paramilitary forces and the private security staff of corporations involved”. A higher proportion of tribals amongst prisoners (11%) compared to their proportion in general population (8.6%) may be an alibi to justify the diversion. Such a fringe ground for fortification of prisons and strengthening of police to oppress the tribals cannot be claimed to be in their interest of the tribal themselves. Admittedly many innocent tribals and some accused of petty crimes are languishing behind the bars. Such alibi reminds what Arun Jaitley, the present Finance Minister, while opposing such diversion of funds in his the then capacity as opposition leader, had observed on 31st August 2010: “If Air India flies aircraft, persons from any caste or creed can travel in them or fly in them. But that does not mean that the funds meant for the welfare of the Scheduled Castes can be diverted to such projects and (the government can then) say that they are beneficial to them.” Interestingly, the government against which Mr. Jaitley had made this statement, had once expressed its commitment through its Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh at the 51st meeting of the National Development Council (27th June 2005) that the ‘Tribal Sub Plans and Special Component Plans should be an integral part of Annual Plans as well as Five Year Plans, making provisions therein non-divertable and non-lapsable, with the clear objective of bridging the gap in socio-economic development of SCS and STS within a period of 10 years.’ In ten years since then things have not improved for the tribals other wise HLC would not have observed only a few months ago that the ‘tribes are among the poorest and most marginalised sections of Indian society. Although numerically only about 8.6 per cent, they disproportionately represent the people living below the poverty line are illiterate and suffer from extremely poor physical health’. Though the tribal population is only 8.6% of the total population, allocations made for tribals have never reached 8.6% of the total Central plan outlay. And this meager amount has been further squeezed through diversion. One wonders when our decision makers would be genuine in adhering to their vociferous pro-tribal proclamations. (BKN)