After wreaking havoc on the environment over the decades and displacing tribals wholesale, the federal government of India has woken up to the seriousness of the situation and is to say no major projects in tribal areas.
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 committee was constituted in July last year when various ministries bayed for more and more "development projects" and spoke up against any kind of restrictions, irrespective of the miseries they could heap on the hapless tribals.
Many industrial and reservoir projects have so far failed to live up to their commitment to ensure proper rehabilitation of the displaced. The environmental destruction itself is taken as given, inevitable and sought to be glossed when presenting reports to the nation.
Even now the focus is on displacement resulting from large projects, of the "irreparable" damage to tribal culture, converting them from land managers to daily wagers.
Still the ministerial group now seems to accept that big projects cause a huge damage to natural flora and fauna, 63 per cent of which is in 50 tribal districts of India.
Hence the environment could be an incidental beneficiary when a policy decision is taken to keep off the tribal areas.
The government might declare that projects that lead to displacement of 50,000 people, majority of whom are tribals, should not be undertaken, it is reported.
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.
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 to conduct 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 is 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.