New Delhi, Feb 24 (UNI) Reiterating the Government's commitment to the welfare of the marginalised sections of society, Tribal affairs Minister P R Kyndiah today said the Centre had joined hands with the State Forest Departments to improve the lives of people living in forest villages.
Launching a Workshop here on 'Development of Forest Villages', Mr Kyndiah pointed out that people living in most of these villages were totally dependent on forests for their livelihood and survival, earning their livelihood under various activities of the forest departments. Some of these forest villages had been converted into revenue villages but still there were about 2700 forest villages in the country, he added.
The Minister said normal revenue administration was missing in these forest villages as a result of which they had been denied basic minimum services.
''Over the years, our focus has shifted from production of timber to conservation of forests. In the process, production forestry took the backseat. Once timber harvesting stopped, employment opportunities for these people too got reduced. Mechanisation also reduced employment opportunities,'' he added.
''Since most of these villages are located in hilly and forested areas, it puts certain limitations on access and connectivity leading to a situation where these people have failed to attain the same level of socio-economic development as other segments of society,'' Mr Kyndiah said.
He said the Workshop was unique as for the first time the Ministries of Tribal Affairs and Environment and Forests had come together working at tandem with the Planning Commission to take the new initiative for the development of forest villages in the country.
He said the Government was committed to the welfare of the marginalised sections who had not been able to reap the benefits of development. During the 10th Five Year Plan, a sum of Rs 450 crore had been allocated for development of these forest villages spread in 13 states. Forest villages were expected to substantially help in raising the level of socio-economic development of the tribal people.
To facilitate smooth and fast implementation, the Environment and Forests Ministry had accorded general approval for taking up various developmental works in forest areas under the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980. The Tribal Development and Forest Departments in various states had also joined hands for improving the lives of people living in these forest villages, the Minister said.
A tripartite committee comprising officials of the Planning Commission, National Commission of Scheduled Tribes, and the Ministries of Environment and Forests and Tribal Affairs considered the proposals from states. So far, proposals of five states -- Assam, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal -- had been sanctioned while proposals from some more states had been received, he added.
Mr Kyndiah announced the Tribal Affairs Ministry had taken up a number of initiatives to improve the socio-economic condition of the STs in the country. The allocation for programmes related to livelihood and infrastructure like schools, roads, minor irrigation, health care, and the like in tribal areas had increased.
The Ministry has also launched several welfare programmes for the Scheduled Tribes like the Minor Irrigation Programme, Rajiv Gandhi National Fellowships for MPhil, PhD and post-doctorate ST students, and the Janashree Life Insurance Scheme for Primitive Tribal Group.
The Government has also substantially increased the allocation for the Post-Matric Scholarships from Rs 64.50 crore during 2004-05 to Rs 229.65 crore during 2005-06, he added.
Also speaking on the occasion, Minister of State for Environment and Forests Namo Narain Meena observed that the living style of the tribals and forest dwellers had been consistent with forest and environmental conservation as brought out in the rich repository of traditional knowledge systems and practices of these people.
The scheme for Development of Forest Villages envisaged a holistic development of the forest villages through provision of basic amenities like drinking water supply, rural roads, maintenance of community building and schools, agriculture and minor irrigation to its habitants, Mr Meena said.
Development of Forest Villages -- having about 250,000 tribal families -- is one of the thrust areas of tribal development during the 10th Five Year Plan. The development envisaged is in terms of providing basic minimum facilities and services to these sections.
The Planning Commission allocated Rs 230 crore to the Tribal Affairs Ministry during 2005-06 for the Integrated Development of Forest Villages to be implemented during the 10th Plan period.
Provision of Rs 230 crore has, therefore, been made for development of forest villages under the Special Central Assistance to Tribal Sub-Plan over and above the Rs 497 crore in the Annual Plan 2005-06 of the Ministry.
UNI DG AK KP1800