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Union Minister for Tribal Affairs Jual Oram
Union Minister for Tribal Affairs Jual Oram has been making continuous efforts towards empowering the neglected sections of society. He talks to Virendra Singh Negi about his initiatives and future plans

Jual Oram, Union Minister for Tribal Affairs has been making continuous efforts towards the empowerment of this neglected section of society for the last three years.

Proposals are being mooted to dilute the role of Gram Sabhas while giving green clearances to projects? What are your views on them?

There are some provisions under different Acts to make sure that this does not happen. For instance, the provisions of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 needs to be strictly adhered to, keeping in view legislative intent of the said Act and the primacy of the Gram Sabhas in democratic governance. The act doesn’t provide any exemption to any category of projects.

Moreover, section 5 of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 empowers the holders of forest rights, the Gram Sabhas and the village level institutions to protect wildlife, forests, water catchment areas, biodiversity and the cultural and natural heritage of forest dwellers. It also aims to ensure that the decisions taken in the Gram Sabha to regulate access to community forest resources and stop any activity which adversely affects the wild animals, forest and the biodiversity are complied with.

It needs to be pointed out that the central role of the Gram Sabhas in development initiatives is not unique to the Forest Rights Act, 2006. It also finds a mention in the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (PESA) where consultation with Panchayats is a necessary precondition for identification of any land in the Scheduled Areas for development projects. The Right of Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, requires consent of the Gram Sabha for acquisition of land in Scheduled Areas for development.

The role of the Gram Sabha has received affirmation from the Supreme Court in the Odisha Mining Corporation vs Ministry of Environment and Forests and Others, 2013 (6) SCALE 57, wherein the apex court has clearly stated the central role of Gram Sabhas (which in Odisha is called Palli Sabha) in entertaining and determining community or individual forest rights claims.

The court also specified that the Gram Sabha was free to consider all the community, individual as well as cultural and religious claims over and above the claims which have already been received from Rayagada and Kalahandi districts.

Narendra Modi has voiced his opinion on skill development which includes the tribals. What are the steps being taken in this regard?

In India the total number of tribals is 10.45 crore which constitutes 8.6 per cent of the total population of the country. Out of this, only 5.09 crore Scheduled Tribe persons are workers. The fact that tribals need special attention is obvious from their low social, economic and participatory indicators.

Skill is a catalyst for economic growth and community development. There is an urgent need for skill development among young aspirants in a systematic manner. Skill building empowers individuals and improves social acceptance.

Skill knowledge and development is important given the increasing pace of globalisation and technological changes in the world. Skill building improves the efficacy and contribution of labour towards production and is also an instrument to empower the individual and improve their social acceptance.

The Government of India has opened new windows for skill development and creation of job opportunities within the country. Funds are being provided for skill development under Special Central Assistance to Tribal Sub-Plan (SCA to TSP) and through Article 275 (1) grants to the states. In their turn, the states assess the skill requirement and send proposals to the Ministry for funding in various trades, be it as drivers, nurses and so on.

The Ministry of Tribal Affairs runs a scheme for Vocational Training Centres (VTCs) whereby free vocational training facilities are extended to tribal youth. The scheme in tribal areas is demand-driven.

The Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) is setting up one multi-skills institute in all districts under the scheme of Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY). The goal this year is to start state-of-art skill centre in each tribal district. The states have also been requested to follow the National Skills Qualification Framework (NSQF).

The preservation of their culture and languages is another concern for tribals. Do you have any plans for that?

The policy adopted in independent India reaffirms the commitment of the state to preserve and protect the distinctive culture, habitat and language of the tribes. However, despite political, social and economic commitments, development gaps exist between tribal and non-tribal people.

The uniqueness of the tribal culture is disappearing fast. Understanding, promoting and preserving their culture is of prime importance.

The Ministry of Tribal Affairs has been extending financial support to Tribal Research Institutes (TRls) set up in various states by the state governments for undertaking certain specific activities. Activities to be undertaken under this scheme include preserving and promoting tribal culture through documentation work, tribal festivals and so on; documentation of intangible heritage/ arts and crafts of the tribal communities in various modes – models, audio-visuals, written form, conducting ethnographic and anthropological studies and supporting fellowship, developing database for STs and PVTGs (Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups) including collection of documentation, translation and publication on the tribal heritage, festivals, oral and visual folklore, arts, local games, sports, songs, literature and so on, development and printing of primers in tribal languages / local official languages, organising tribal exhibitions, dance and painting events and competitions, documenting art and craft to provide protection under Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) regime; Monographs on tribal communities; Preparation of books/dictionaries of tribal languages;

At present, assistance is being provided to 21 Tribal Research Institutes (TRls).

Read more: The Pioneer