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No big projects in tribal areas: GoM

A Group of Ministers has cleared the draft tribal policy disallowing projects that can lead to huge displacement of tribal population, reports Chetan Chauhan.
Hindustan Times | By Chetan Chauhan, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUL 08, 2008 01:12 AM IST

For those eyeing tribal areas for starting big projects, there is some bad news. A Group of Ministers has cleared the draft tribal policy disallowing projects that can lead to huge displacement of tribal population.

The policy, cleared by GoM headed by Home Minister Shivraj Patel, will now be placed before the cabinet for its approval, a senior tribal affairs ministry official said. “A cabinet note has already been prepared,” the official said.

The cabinet constituted a GoM in July 2007 to discuss contentious issues in the draft tribal policy after several Union ministers objected to clauses on restriction on starting new projects, regulations for rehabilitation of displaced tribals and ensuring benefit for tribals from new projects.

The GoM has reportedly accepted the ministry’s viewpoint that displacement resulting from large projects, even if they are in public interest, causes an “irreparable” damage to tribal culture and convert them from land managers to daily wagers.

However, the GoM has asked the ministry to define big projects in clearer terms. The draft policy had stated that projects that lead to displacement of 50,000 people, majority of whom are tribals, should not be undertaken. The ministry had also said that big projects also cause a huge damage to natural flora and fauna, 63 per cent of which is in 50 tribal districts of India.

The new policy, if notified, can mean end of road for big mining projects in tribal areas, which cover 15 per cent of geographical area of the country. Starting projects like Pasco Steel in tribal belt of Orissa, which has caused a lot of resentment, would become difficult once the policy comes into force, a ministry official admitted.

In case of displacement, the policy says that tribals would get land for land in the tribal zone itself so that they can sustain their livelihood through traditional methods. The GoM has also agreed for conducting mandatory social impact assessment before starting projects in tribal areas.

The policy also envisages improvement in Human Development Index of tribals, which has plummeted to the lowest level since Independence. “The out of school children, school drop out rate and literacy rates among tribal girls is among the lowest for different social groups in India,” the draft tribal policy said. The tribal affairs ministry expected to put the policy for cabinet consideration before the end of July. “The tribal affairs minister has already spoken to the prime minister in this regard,” a ministry official said.

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