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Wither Vanbandhu project? Celebrating tribal day in Gujarat would be a fraud in the name of development

By Paulomee Mistry* and Hemantkumar Shah**
On November 9, on the International Tribal Day, the Gujarat government has decided to celebrate the event by spending crores of rupees, even as about 9 lakh adivasis of Gujarat remain deprived of the government's own commitment to their socio-economic development. In fact, the state government has only pretended to have done hard work for the development of tribals over the last 18 years and has not played any significant role for their amelioration, as is clear from the following facts.
The tribal areas of Gujarat come under Schedule 5 of the Constitution of India. To review the development of these areas, an Adivasi Parishad has been formed, and its chairman is Gujarat governor. The Adivasi Parishad should meet every three months, according to the rules framed for it. But this never happens. In fact, there was just one meeting last year, and this year no meeting has been conducted. Thus, the Gujarat government has violated the Constitution.
According to the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, up to 10 acres of land can be owned by the tribal farmers cultivating forest land. Accordingly, they have claimed their land on the basis of evidence and possession. But they are being allocated land for a very small portion of land against their claims, ranging from half an acre to two acres. This has happened in 99% of cases. The government this way is violating terms and conditions enacted by it.
According to section 8 (z) of the Forest Rights Recognition Rule of the Government of India, a farmer's land entitlement should be given to each forest land cultivator by the state government. Even then, what the tribals are offered is not landownership entitlement but “cultivation rights” certificate, which has no value. Such Adhikar Patras offered to them have no legal standing. This way, the adivasis are being deceived.
Narendra Modi, when he was chief minister of Gujarat, announced Vanbandhu Welfare Scheme in the Legislative Assembly on February 27, 2007. Under this, a 10-point programme announcement was made for Rs 15,000 crore, which was to be implemented in five years, 2007-2012. Yet, on July 23, 2018, the state's tribal development department once again came up with details of the scheme!
Surprisingly, the details of how much expenditure has been incurred under Vanbandhu are not given in the ‘activity profile’ published by the state government. It is impossible to find out activities and budget utilization under the scheme. This despite the fact that Vanbandhu was "revised" twice; the amount for 2007-12 was increased to Rs 17,838 crore, and for 2012-17, it wad increased Rs 40,000 crore! Yet, the state government is refusing to reveal the exact details of the actual amount spent on it.
The water of various dams built in the tribal areas is claimed to be meeting the demands of village and urban areas of Mehsana, Kutch, Ahmedabad, Vadodara and Surat districts, but in the tribal areas it is not available. It is also a fact that tribals have to struggle for demanding water in their own areas while it is sought to be distributed to other regions.
Adivasis from Dahod, Panchmahal, Chotaudepur, Aravali and Sabarkantha districts are forced to migrate for labour work, as in these areas, 100 days' employment is not provided as per the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005. Also, for whatever work they do under MGNREGA, they do not get wages on time. According to the guidelines of MGNREGA, the village panchayat has to decide on development work, but in Gujatat the state government decides on it.
About 82.9% of the children in tribal areas are suffering from malnutrition. The state government has not taken this matter seriously and has not implemented the aanganwadi scheme in its letter and spirit. There are not enough doctors and nurses in government primary health centres, community health centres and district hospitals in tribal areas, and availability of medicines is scarce.Therefore, tribals are forced to go to private doctors, who are very expensive. They often have to take huge debts.
Ashram schools in tribal areas are closing down because the state government does not give them teachers and does not provide grants. The state government also does not provide sufficient grants for their hostel, so there is no way left for tribal parents but to offer expensive education to their children. Furthermore, there are not enough teachers in elementary schools, and therefore the quality of education of children in tribal areas is worsening.
According to the National Food Security Act, 2013, Rs 3 per kg rice as well as Rs 2 per kg wheat and Re 1 per kg millet and corn should be made available through fair price shops. But this provision has not been implemented anywhere in the state, including tribal areas. Furthermore, according to this law, it is mandatory to give 5 kg of grains to each person, and 35 kg of grain to antyodaya card holders per month, which is quite irregular. Not only that, According to NFSA, 2013, a ration card should be made also in the name of a female member of family, but it has not yet being implemented.
The Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) or PESA Act was passed in 1996 for the tribal areas, and in 1998 the Gujarat Legislative Assembly revised itse Panchayat Act, 1993 to implement it. But the implementation of this law has not yet happened in respect to the village ownership of forest produce in tribal villages, the rights of gram sabhas, approval of the gram sabhas for development plans etc. It has been implemented only on paper, and the state government deceives people by giving false advertisements.
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*Ekalaya Sangathan, **Professor of Economics, Gujarat University

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