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Secure development with conservation

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Secure development with conservation

Monday, 22 April 2019 | VK Bahuguna

Madhya Pradesh’s Khandwa district, where forest officials have been running a centre to train tribal youth for livelihood, is one example that needs to be replicated across the country. The Government should rope in the forest department for tribal development

Bureaucracy is a tool for governance and implementation of decisions as per the law and conventions set by the rulers. It functions in a systematic manner and if it performs its duty honestly and efficiently, it can become an agent of change for the welfare of the people. However, the bureaucracy is severely criticised all over the world for creating logjam, being insensitive to public feelings, breeding red-tapism, setting up a roadblock for innovation and running after those who dare innovate. In a country as diverse as India, where challenges faced by its people are immense, the success of any Government programme depends on the commitment and efficiency of its administration.

But as always, there are some change-mongers, whose enterprise, zeal and innovation bring resilience, long-term credibility and, hence, faith in the system. In the midst of failed Government schemes, there are people who, with their sheer perseverance and hard work, have rewritten laws of governance. In this column, this writer will discuss one such example of forest conservation and tribal development reviewed by him recently when he visited some tribal areas in the hinterland of Madhya Pradesh’s Khandwa district.

This area is home to dry teak forests and many tribal communities live in and around the forests. The Kol, Korku, Sahariya and Baiga tribals have registered the highest population. A large number of forest villages were created during the British period for the execution of forestry works and people over here were deprived of even basic civic amenities. However, the situation changed after the Forest Rights Act, 2006. This writer visited the Chattu-Pattu and Bangda villages, inhabited by the Korku and Gond tribes, around 70 km away from Khandwa last month and got a chance to speak to the tribals, who are beneficiaries of the various income-generation activities launched by the forest department here so that they can lead a decent livelihood. It was reassuring to see that irrigation facilities had promoted wheat and vegetable cultivation but sadly, millets were fast vanishing.

The most noteworthy aspect was the creation of a skill development centre at Anwlia in 2010, for which funds were generated from the tribal-sub plan of the State and the Union Government pitched in as well. It was the innovative thinking of former Divisional Forest Officer SS Rawat, currently overseeing this centre as the Chief Conservator of Khandwa circle, and the staff that led to the establishment of this centre. The skill development centre was created through a public-private partnership with help from an NGO, Self Employment Education Society (SEES) and with bare minimum investment. The centre focussed on the advantage of the location of the Khandwa town on the main railway track from where all trains going to major South Indian cities like Bengaluru passed. The centre had trained over a thousand youths belonging to Korku and other tribes till June 2016. Around 600 boys were trained for security guards, data entry jobs and driving vehicles.

Further, 450 girls were skilled in cloth stitching, tribal art and beauty parlour jobs. Training happens for a duration of three months for each trade in a batch of 35 and covers personality development, too. After the completion of the training, placement services are activated by the centre. SEES was paid Rs 8,000 per candidate for training.

It was heartening to learn that out of the 450 trained girls, 176 are working at a textile company in Bengaluru and others have taken up independent work in nearby places. One of the girls, who had come home from Bengaluru for Holi, was present with her baby during my visit and she informed me that they are provided safe accommodation, dining, crèche facilities and a good salary of more than Rs 8,500 during their initial appointment. Another textile producer in Mandideep near Bhopal recruited 450 boys as security guards. Those, who were trained in driving, are on their own and self-employed.

This innovative example of the use of forest department to train the tribal youth for livelihood was executed through the NGO. However, the infrastructure for training, including the building, was arranged separately by the forest department. A cost-benefit analysis will make for a nice model that can be replicated for not only employment generation for the tribals but also for reducing their dependence on the forest and land-based resources. Success has come very silently, without blowing the trumpet, but the district administration of Khandwa must take cue from this and help this centre grow as a model for employment-generation by adding up more trade and providing financial support. It should focus more on animal resources and horticulture development and the creation of infrastructure for primary sector. The centre needs fresh infusion of funds.

Equally, the forest department must submit a comprehensive project before the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, Ministry of Rural Development and Ministry of Tribal Affairs, that covers the entire State with site-specific modules. CAMPA funds can also be tied up.

In a nutshell, the implementation of such modules sends out a larger message to our planners to reshape developmental programmes by interlinking conservation of forests with income-generation and growth of primary sector activities through infusion of technology. Emphasis of forest management should be on conserving the forests, soil moisture and bio-diversity and making people less dependent on forests through such activities that ultimately not only lead to better livelihood but can help in climate change mitigation and adaptation on broader scale by covering the entire landscape.

It will also assimilate the tribal youth in the mainstream society where they will enrich it with their culture, language, art and music. It is in this light that the recommendations of the National Commission on Scheduled Tribes that the Indian Forest Service should be entrusted with tribal development must be seen. It’s time that the Government takes a call considering the future of the country.

(The writer is a retired civil servant)

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