New Delhi: In a clear message to Maoists, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday said no sustained economic activity is possible under the shadow of gun in tribal areas where decades of alienation is taking a “dangerous” turn.
He said there has been a “systemic failure” in giving tribals a stake in the modern economic processes and emphasised that the “systematic exploitation and social and economic abuse of our tribal communities can no longer be tolerated.”
Addressing a conference of chief ministers and state ministers of tribal affairs here, Singh said the problems faced by tribals are complex and require sympathetic understanding, factoring in different nuances of tribal life.
“The alienation built over decades is now taking a dangerous turn.We must change our ways of dealing with tribals.We have to win the battle for their hearts,” he said.
“It cannot be said that we dealt sensitively with these issues in the past. More could be done and more should be done (for tribals),” he said.
At the same time, he said, “No sustained economic activity is possible under the shadow of gun.Nor have those who claim to speak for the tribals offered an alternate economic path that is viable”, an apparent message to Maoists who claim to be champions of the tribals’ cause.
Underlining that tribals must be the primary beneficiaries of the development process, the Prime Minister underlined that the cult of violence would only bring greater misery to the people.
He made it clear that “violence cannot be tolerated” and the threat would be countered with determination.
Talking about the problems faced by tribals, Singh said administrative machinery in some of such areas is “either weak or virtually non-existent”, the “heavy hand of criminal justice system has become a source of harassment and exploitation” and over the years, a large number of cases have been registered against the tribals, “whose traditional rights were not recognised by earlier forest laws”.
He stressed the need for a “more enlightened approach” towards tribals.
Singh noted that Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh governments have recently withdrawn cases against tribals and said other states need to review such cases urgently and take a similar action.
“We need to make a fresh start,” he said.
The Prime Minister also referred to the host of issues related to losses suffered by tribals displaced due to land acquisition.
“It is not just the displacement and disorientation caused by separation from the land that is at issue. One can only imagine the psychological impact of seeing the cutting down of the very forests that have nurtured the existence of these communities for centuries,” he said.
Singh said resettlement and rehabilitation of tribals raise serious issues of not just monetary compensation but also issues of sustainable livelihood, preserving the traditional sense of community and helping the tribals cope with the trauma of dislocation and alienation.
“It is clear that we need to reflect on how to improve the laws and mechanisms through which we provide compensation to displaced tribals. The tribals must benefit from the projects for which they have been displaced,” the Prime Minister said.
He said he had written twice to chief ministers of all states on implementation of Forest Rights Act, which envisages distribution of title deeds to tribals, by the end of this year.
While some states have achieved remarkable progress in the distribution of titles, others are lagging behind, Singh said, lamenting that “in a few states, even the process of receiving claims is yet to commence.”
He described distribution of titles as an “important and necessary first step” for addressing problems of tribals.
“If implemented in its true spirit, it (the Act) will provide significant multipliers in the process of development in some of our critical habitats,” Singh said.
Singh said people whose lives are dependent on forests should be made essential partners in the process of natural resources planning, conservation and protection, and emphasised the importance of implementing Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act in letter and spirit.
“We cannot have equitable growth without guaranteeing the legitimate rights of these marginalised and isolated sections of our society,” he said.
“In a broader sense, we need to empower them with the means to determine their own destinies, their livelihood, their security, and above all their dignity and self-respect as equal citizens of our country,” he added.
Emphasising that education and health needed priority attention, Singh said it was important to dovetail all development and welfare programmes in tribal areas so that the strategy was coherent and there was a coordinated approach involving all departments.
“The lack of quality education and vocational opportunities for tribals need immediate attention. The infrastructure in the residential schools and tribal hostels is mostly inadequate. Scholarships are also piecemeal and don’t enable a student to complete education,” the Prime Minister said, asking the tribal affairs ministry to come forward with proposals that addressed these concerns.
Tribal affairs minister Kantilal Bhuria, in his address, said there was need for bringing amendment in forest laws and pointed that “innocent” tribals are now taking route to the naxalism as hundreds of them are being “harrassed” under the Forest Act.