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Kantilal Bhuria, Tribal Affairs Minister on tribal and land rights

New Delhi, Sep 13 (Calcutta Tube) Nearly a million tribals have been given land rights under the forest rights act and they will be made stakeholders in development projects, says Tribal Affairs Minister Kantilal Bhuria, as this largely neglected section of Indian society comes to the fore of government policy.

‘We have received over 28 lakh (2.8 million) representations for land rights, of which 10 lakh claimants have been given land rights,’ Bhuria, 60, who is himself a tribesperson from Madhya Pradesh, told IANS in an interview.

‘State governments have been asked to expedite the process of granting land rights to the remaining tribal families,’ Bhuria said adding the government is keeping a close watch to ensure that tribals are made stakeholders in development activities.

India has over 84 million tribals, according to the last census, comprising about eight percent of the population.

The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest-Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act was passed by the government in 2006. Tribals, who were seen as encroachers under the Forest Conservation Act, have been given legal rights to own, collect, use and dispose of minor forest produce over the forest land they have been living in.

‘Tribals will be made stakeholders in development projects, including mining. While granting clearance to such projects, their impact on climate change and culture of the tribal community will always be taken into account,’ said Bhuria, a Congress MP from Ratlam in Madhya Pradesh.

The minister also said a survey will be started soon to identify such mines and take action against defaulters.

‘State governments have been asked to deal with illegal mining with a heavy hand. A joint initiative is also being launched with the environment ministry to visit mining sites to oversee the implementation of the forest protection act. This will put pressure on the states to act immediately against those who have violated the law,’ he said.

The statement comes close on the heels of the environment ministry cancelling permission to London-listed company Vedanta to carry out bauxite mining in the Niyamgiri hills in Orissa for violating environment laws.

The centre also proposed giving tribals 26 percent share in mining profits under the draft mines and minerals bill, which is under the consideration of a Group of Ministers.

The minister however conceded that there are reports of large-scale corruption in the implementation of tribal welfare schemes and urged state governments to give stringent punishment to those responsible for corrupt practices.

‘Yes, there are reports of large-scale corruption,’ he said, adding that hopes were pinned on the newly formed National Council for Tribal Welfare headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

‘The apex council will ensure speedy and transparent implementation of welfare schemes,’ Bhuria said.

The 18-member National Council for Tribal Welfare will comprise the union ministers for tribal affairs, finance, home, agriculture, health and family welfare, environment and forests, human resource development, rural development, woman and child development, culture, mines and coal, and power.

The council is expected to expedite the implementation of tribal welfare schemes through inter-ministerial coordination.

(Anjali Ojha can be contacted at anjali.o@ians.in)

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