Impact of lockdown on tribal communities is yet to be assessed, says Union Minister for Tribal Affairs Arjun Munda in an interview with Ritwika Mitra but asserts that his ministry is doing its bit to create employment opportunities for tribal migrants who are returning to their home states. Excerpts:
The government recently increased the minimum support price for over 45 minor forest produce (MFP) items. What do you think will be the implementation challenges amid reports that tribal communities were forced to sell the products at much lower rates during the lockdown?
During this global pandemic, it is our responsibility to take care of the underprivileged as our tribal population is sustained by natural resources. The community earns its livelihood by selling forest produce, but is unable to get proper rate for the same. That’s why our ministry has included 50 minor forest produce items to have a minimum support price. We are planning to include more 30 items to this list. I have called for rapid implementation of sale of MFP with revised prices and some states have already agreed to the same. I have also spoken about it to all Union ministers, chief ministers and other state officials concerned. I was not aware that the tribals were forced to sell their produce at low rates during the lockdown. I will initiate an inquiry into this.
How does the government plan to boost food security and improve livelihood programmes for tribal communities and other traditional forest dwellers amid the pandemic?
We are ensuring food security for tribal communities and other forest dwellers through the government and NGOs. The ministry is in constant touch with the officials related to the tribal affairs and monitoring the current situation. Given the current circumstances, the ministry has urged states to accelerate procurement operations for MFP to support the tribal communities as this is the busiest period of collection.
With over 15 tribal districts amid hotspots and 40 per cent of ST population living below poverty line, do you think there is a need to form an exclusive Covid response team for tribal areas?
Efforts are already being made to fight this epidemic. The ministry has not yet decided on setting up a separate team, but if necessary, will discuss it. We are also running awareness campaigns on adopting cleanliness, hygiene and social distancing, with help of ASHA workers.
Is the ministry planning to conduct an assessment report on the lockdown’s impact on tribal migrants?
This issue is under consideration.
Is the ministry coordinating with state governments on how to provide support to tribals, especially the states with high tribal population?
Since May 1, when the MSP for MFP for 50 items was announced, small forest produce worth `40 crore has been procured by 17 states. Five more states will also start the procurement process soon. We, along with the states, reviewed the working of Van Dhan Yojana. I have also discussed with CMs and officials of various states the steps taken by them on return of tribal migrants to their home states. New employment opportunities for the home-bound migrants will be discovered by establishing small scale units at the village level and taking advantage of the traditional knowledge of tribal communities.