Does Bihar know how many tribals live in the State?

No head count has been done after 2001 Census and the State refuses to acknowledge them, while the Nitish Kumar government is busy doling out schemes for Dalit empowerment.

August 16, 2009 11:59 am | Updated December 17, 2016 03:27 am IST - PATNA:

Rural Bihar awaits the monsoons as tribals and farmers feel the heat. Photo: Ranjeet Kumar

Rural Bihar awaits the monsoons as tribals and farmers feel the heat. Photo: Ranjeet Kumar

While the Nitish Kumar government is busy doling out schemes for the empowerment of Maha Dalits, it seems to have completely slurred over the problems plaguing Bihars tribal population. As a result, even after the States bifurcation in 2000, policy makers remain clueless about the extent of its tribal population. The State does not even have a tribal commission. This, along with the Centres equivocal overtures, has only compounded the misery of Bihars tribal population.

Bihar has a tribal population of about 20 lakh, informs Pramod Kumar Singh, State Convener, Hunger Free Bihar Campaign, but even now, government officials seem to think that the tribals are a miniscule 1 per cent.

The problem, according to activists like Mr. Singh, is that Central and State government mandarins have not taken into account the addition of nearly 12 lakh tribals in the State after the 2001 census. This number mainly comprises three tribes Gond, Santhal and Tharu. While some of them live in scattered pockets, the majority is concentrated in 14 districts of the State.

While the fault may lie at the Centres door for this omission, the State governments apathy towards its tribal population is both intriguing and incredible in this respect.

Mr. Singh says that after Bihars bifurcation into Jharkhand, government officials and policy makers across the State have somehow managed to impress upon themselves that there is no Adivasi population in the State.

The Fifth Schedule

The Fifth Schedule covers Tribal areas in nine States Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Orissa and Rajasthan. Under this, villages and panchayats having a tribal population of more than 50 per cent are notified as Scheduled Areas.

While this is true for other States, why hasnt it yet been put to effect in Bihars 14 districts where the population is most densely concentrated, argues Mr. Singh.

This induced miscalculation has deprived the States tribals of almost all of the Centres schemes.

Bureaucratic Apathy

Officials seemed utterly callous about enforcing the Forest Rights Act in the State which was not implemented until February 4 this year, then too after it had been bought to their notice by the State Tribal Forum organised by activists of the Hunger Free Bihar campaign.

Lack of a database has ensured that their cries have gone unheeded.

Nobody knows how many of them have died of starvation or what are the atrocities committed against them. There is no record of the impact of Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) in tribal clusters, informs Mr. Singh.

Land Rights

Landless tribals in the State are of two types, namely those who do not have land for farming and ones who do not have land for housing/ shelter. While the government is obliged to grant a minimum of 4 decimal and a maximum of 12.5 decimal of Rayati (Privately owned) land to the tribal families, it has not done so as it does not have a record of landless tribals.

Mr. Singh says that as the tribal does not have the permission to sell his own land, he does not know the actual price and hence is mercilessly cheated by unscrupulous brokers.

The 11th Five-year plan is equally nebulous about the clauses pertaining to the progress of Bihars tribals. For instance, it is just not clear whether there would be a separate hostel for SC, ST OBC children or whether they would all be accommodated together. Mr. Singh says that while there are tribal hostels in other States, Bihar does not have a single one. Besides, there are no secondary schools and colleges for tribal boys and girls, either.

Poor medical facilities

While about 4 lakh tribal families in the country have been covered under the Jan Shree insurance scheme, Bihars Asur, Kokha, Birhor and other tribes have not been able to avail themselves of its benefit.

There is not a single mobile medical dispensary in any tribal cluster across the state, says Mr. Singh.

Mr. Singh says that the State does not have a single Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India (TRIFED) building, which has severely impeded tribals development, due to which they are routinely exploited.

CAG audit needed

Mr. Singh urges that the CAG should audit schemes for the Scheduled Tribes in the State. He says that the Central and State governments must involve NGOs to carry out these surveys.

The Bihar government doesnt even need a matching grant, the Centre is ready to provide the funds, says Mr. Singh.

Mr. Singh says that a passing gesture in which Rs.125 crores were sanctioned by the Nitish Kumar Government in January this year for the benefit of the Tharu tribe has been diverted to the betterment of the Tiger Sanctuary in that district instead.

Only after a demand for a tribal mega tribunal was made last Sunday in the presence of State officials has the deplorable condition of the tribals finally come to light.

It is up to the State now to reconsider its policy on tribals by beginning with a headcount, and fast.

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