Shriya writes about the increasing divide between the nation and the tribals and the increased pressure on them during this COVID crisis. Her analysis is not just based on problems but also dwells on what schemes are being implemented by the government in these times.
As we enter into lockdown 3.0 to continue our fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, the issue of livelihood of the middle class, daily wage workers, and more importantly the tribal people or Adivasis continues to widen.
Adivasi is the collective term for the Scheduled Tribes of India, who are considered to be the indigenous peoples of India. Prior to the Dravidians and Indo-Aryans. It refers to “any of various ethnic groups considered to be the original inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent.”
The livelihoods among tribal communities in India is complex, dynamic, and a multidimensional phenomenon. Its perception varies with geographical location, type of community, age, gender, education, fluctuations in resources, services and infrastructures, and social, economic, cultural, ecological and political determinants. Agriculture constitutes the main source of livelihood among tribes in India playing a vital role in the national economy, rural development, employment and occupation, agro-industries, food and nutrition security, growth and survival, social, economic and cultural conditions and poverty alleviation. About 70% of the population mainly depends on rain fed agriculture characterized by low productivity, un-predictive weather and calamities, degraded soil with low fertility, unprotected irrigation, and degraded natural resources. These factors aggravated the problems of poverty, migration, unemployment, underemployment, food insecurity and malnutrition for millions of tribal people in India. The capability of agriculture and livestock production to form sustainable livelihoods of tribal poor is in continuous decline because the current overall endowments of production, distribution of productive assets and productive abilities are out of alignment with what is needed. Consequently, the tribal people are constrained to earn their livelihoods from forest resources. Majority of the tribal households meet a large share of their construction, storage, agricultural, energy, nutritional, medicinal and income needs from forests. Ease of access and proximity to widely dispersed rural markets, enable tribal people to generate a major share of their household income from forest-based livelihood.
The lockdown is affecting the traditional livelihood of the tribals as this is the peak season for selling of Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFP), also called Minor Forest Produce (MFP). According to the Forest Rights Act, 2006 it includes “all non-timber forest produce of plant origin including bamboo, brushwood, stumps, cane, tussar, cocoons, honey, wax, lac, tendu or kendu leaves, medicinal plants and herbs, roots, tubers and the like”. According to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, MFP is a major source of livelihood for tribals living in forest areas and around 100 million forest dwellers depend on MFPs for food, shelter, medicines and cash income. It provides them critical subsistence during the lean seasons, particularly for primitive tribal groups such as hunter-gatherers, and the landless. Tribals derive 20-40% of their annual income from MFP. The MFP sector has the potential to create about 10 million workdays annually in the country. A number of MFP items are seasonal and the selling off period for those products is usually between March and June. But the tribals are not able to sell as there are no buyers due to the lockdown and the state governments have closed haats to avoid crowding.
Now, in order to support the tribals in times of such grave crisis the government has increased the minimum support price of non-timber minor forest produce for 46 items in the price range of 6.1% to 90.5% per kilogram. Most of the items on the list have seen an increase in prices in the range of 15 to 20 percent. This move looks like a ray of hope to the 5.5 crore tribals whose survival is dependent on earnings made out of forest produce. However, this hike in MSP will only benefit the tribals if the states put in place a well-coordinated procurement system. Hence The Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India (TRIFED) sent a proposal to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs on Monday to declare the van dhan centers as procurement centers for minor forest produces (MFP) gathered by forest-dependent communities. Currently there are 1108 such shelters.
The tribals are relatively better off in terms of receiving rations from the government for they receive ration through the tribal development schemes launched by the Government of India. Each tribal family receives 60 eggs, a 500 gm sachet of Nandini ghee, one litre edible oil and cereals under the tribal development scheme of the Centre. This is in addition to free rice under the Anna Bhagya scheme of the State government. The only ones who are not able to enjoy this are those who live in extremely impoverished regions, as they do not have ration cards. To tackle this problem, the Bombay high court has been directed to start issuing ration cards to eligible persons in the state with no deadline set.
In another interesting initiative, The Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs has decided to extend a helping hand to tribal artisans and self-help groups in making masks, which are essential in the fight against Covid-19. The ministry is working with tribal artisans for providing marketing support to masks and their other handloom products. Some of the artisans have already started making masks at home and are supplying to the authorities Supply of masks by these tribal artisans will help establish a model for creating livelihood as well as safety to people.
Hence it is safe to say that the government is taking several measures in order to make our tribal population feel safer during such uncertain times, as it is doing for other sections of society. All of this is part of an ongoing bigger initiative of not letting the tribals remain voiceless and help them get in touch with the mainstream world so they can live happier, healthier, and more stable lives.
Writer – Bharat Bhagya Vidhata.