Need to rethink development strategies: Rs. 800 crore project for vulnerable tribal groups in Odisha

Subrat Kumar Nayak and Hemant Kumar Sahoo
Vasundhra, Bhubaneswar

The present case study with a comparative analysis of two Tribal Villages – one Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG) village and another Schedule Tribe (ST) dominated village – reveals that the Government of Odisha in India has placed more emphasis on time-bound implementation and targeted spending of welfare schemes and programmes even though it is obvious that this approach has failed to deliver results, The true effectiveness of most of the schemes and programmes focusing on tribal development is still poorly understood. If the state government fails to understand what development for these tribals means and keeps on spending money on a “top to bottom” approach based on other people’s notion of development, both the taxpayer, and society as a whole will continue to pay for ineffective and inefficient programmes and also the bilateral and multilateral funding would go waste and the targeted community would remain deprived and marginalized.

Collecting NTFPs for daily needs, Madikhole village. Pic: Hemant Kumar Sahoo
Collecting NTFPs for daily needs, Madikhole village. Pic: Hemant Kumar Sahoo

In the present era of rapid economic development, successive governments in India have placed priority on ‘economic growth and social justice’. India has followed a mixed economy model after Independence and a central role has been assigned to the state’s planning machinery for resource allocation across sectors. The stated primary objectives of the planning process have been economic growth, social justice and self-reliance. The Five-Year Plans initiated since 1951 provided the basic framework for the economic development strategies of the country.

India, a democratic and secular nation, is committed to the development and welfare of the tribals, in this pursuit several tribal development programmes have been undertaken from time to time entailing enormous human, financial and material resources. However the planner overlooked the unique features of each tribal community and imposed common and stereotype programmes and welfare schemes for their socio-economic transformations which leads to failure of the tribal development to achieve the desired objectives.

India’s tribal population is officially registered according to their distinct cultural and ethnic features called Scheduled Tribes (STs). The STs, with a population of 104.3 million as per 2011 Census constitutes approximately 8.6% of India’s population, STs have traditionally been concentrated in areas characterised mainly with forests, hills, and undulating inaccessible areas. Out of the total ST population, approximately 2.6 million (2.5 per cent) belong to “Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups” (PVTGs). This classification is reserved for the most disadvantages of all the ST communities. There are 75 identified PTGs spread across 17 States and Union Territories in India.

Odisha is home to 62 STs including 13 PVTGs. The PVTGs are Concentrated in the Eastern Ghats and the Northern Plateau which accounts to almost three-fourth of the States ST population. For the economic and social development of the PVTG population, with the support of Government of India, the State has established 17 Micro-Project Agency (MPA) Areas.

Odisha continues to be one of the poorest states in India with high incidence of poverty and low indices of human development, at 33% the head count poverty in Odisha in 2011-12 was fourth highest in India. STs are among the poorest, followed by SCs. Poverty also has a regional imprints, with the hilly districts encompassing the Eastern Ghats, the Northern Plateau and the central tablelands, together form home to over 92% of Odisha’s STs, who are the poorest compared to the population in the fertile coastal districts.

One of the core objectives, as stated earlier, is to achieve social justice, which is only possible by improvement in social outcomes; yet for the Odisha Government, expenditure on tribal development – the real value of outcomes – is rarely considered or even understood.

Recently the Odisha government has decided to launch a special scheme – ‘Odisha PVTG Empowerment & Livelihood Improvement Programme (OPELIP) – with an investment of Rs 795 crore, proposed to be jointly funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Odisha Government. It is projected that this programme would benefit around 62,000 PVTG households. It is scaling of the Odisha Tribal Empowerment & Livelihood Programme (OTELP) and it is for the first time that an external development partner has been invited to work in PVTG area in Odisha. Question arises why the Odisha Government is taking loan from IFAD when there is a very strong constitutional provision that guarantees full financial support for tribal affairs, that too as a charge on the consolidated fund of India, and also keeping in view the fact that there is surfeit of financial resources and this gets established by the failure on the part of the State SC & ST Development Department to spend the sanctioned amount though different agencies.

Even if the state Government is determined to go  for loan before demonstrating the ability to spend the sanctioned and budgeted amount on the development of the most sensitive communities in Odisha, the state Government needs to clearly articulate the outcomes with a clear understanding of the wide diversity of cultures, system of self-governance and culturally linked livelihood system of the tribal groups. Based on this insight, the government needs to develop the internal capability to understand the complexity of these 13 PVTGs. This is essential to enable timely and accurate measurement of both the outcomes targeted to be delivered and the cost to be incurred keeping in view the tribal cultural integration with nature and forest.

Case study findings
A recent visit to one of the remote villages in Kandhamal District of Odisha reveals that the community having rights over their customary forest were self-sustained and economically independent and not in need of any such welfare schemes before they were deprived by forest department and forced to stop their traditional agricultural practices inside their customary forest which converted the community into labourers depending on government schemes from self-sufficient food producers.

Understanding the tribal economy

Harvesting Kueri (small millet), Desughati. Pic: Subrat Kumar Nayak
Harvesting Kueri (small millet), Desughati. Pic: Subrat Kumar Nayak

For centuries, the demand for food, energy and any other household needs of Kutiakandhs and Desiakandhs of Kandhamal district of Odisha has been met completely by customary farming practices coupled with hunting, fishing, and gathering. Traditional slash and burn community farming was providing the main food items for different age groups of these communities. The important food crops that have been cultivated since long are millets, pulses and some oil seeds with ritual crops like tobacco for day to day need of food and sedatives.

KutiaKondha habitat, Desughati. Pic: Subrat Kumar Nayak
KutiaKondha habitat, Desughati. Pic: Subrat Kumar Nayak

Our analysis is based on two parameters in order to compare the economic changes in these two Kandh dominant villages (Desughati-Kutiakandha and Madikhole-Desiakandha) of Kandhamal districts in the current study. Those from the Madikhole and Desughati Kandha community are basically hunters and gatherers and practice shifting cultivation. Their way of life and livelihood has been influenced by existing factors mainly includes, subsistence economy (non-monetary economy completely relies on natural resources), market based economy (driven by supply and demand), Government and non-government welfare schemes (mostly politically influenced and designed based on other people notion of development) that has been strategically implemented. Further the development is analysed segregating into three phases such as pre-Indian Forest Act phase (before 1927), Post IFA phase (before 2006) and present status after enactment of the Forest Rights Act.

Subsistence economy
Since time immemorial human beings have always been looking towards forest biodiversity, to use them as food, shelter and other agricultural purposes. Community member of both the villages narrated their past economic status and lifestyle with the present situation.

Before 1927 they practiced mixed cropping of millets, pulses, oilseed and tuberous plants with few fruit bearing plants and trees in and around the community habitations without any legal restriction as this area was also declared as a backward tract. Their rotational farming practices have been sustainable both with regard to maintaining biodiversity as well providing food, fibres, dyes, medicines, ritual crops with proper use of community land and resources. In this way they were able to sustain their livelihood and also strike a balance vis-a-vis social values and ethos with due respect to community based knowledge system and their culture. In addition to their requirement, they were enriched with traditional knowledge and skill which is vital for their socio-ecological management and development.

During 1928-2006, communities integrated cultural practices and traditional knowledge system was hugely affected by draconian Forest laws, its implementing department and other developmental government schemes/programmes. That has greatly influenced their lifestyle and livilihood. Madikhole, the traditional cropping practice is gradually decreases over this period and finally put to an end.Further their dependency over forest land and resources is intentionally and sometimes directly restricted. Like for example the forest policy acknowledges the symbiotic relation between the tribal and the forest. But the forest act clearly prohibits carrying of ‘tangia’ (axe). Which is a weapon of defence and not offence and no one can move in the forest without some weapon of defence or the other. In this period due to loss of their habitat and tenurial security they become labourer which makes them completely dependent on government schemes and programmes, which taken them away from their subsistence economy.

In Desughati, the KutiaKandha community who believe in their age old culture and nature based life. Although their mode of dependency also influenced by government schemes/programme and Forest laws and implementing departmentintervention to some extent but due to their remoteness and cultural integrity they are still able to maintain their cultural sanctity and traditional livelihood practices. Their economy is completely based on the surrounding biodiversity and other natural resources especially on slash and burn cultivation (Gudiachasa) which they practice on rotational basis on patches culturally named as “Padars” [a geo-cultural landscape marked by one or more dongars or hills, and presided over by the Dharani Pennu (earth goddess)], the KutiaKondha of Desughati traditionally hold rights over 14 such padars which constitute their clan territory.

Mango plantation and Madhikhol
Mango Plantation by horticultural Department, Madhikhol. Pic: Hemanta Kumar Sahoo

Post FRA
People in Madikhole have asserted their right under FRA after recognition of their individual forest rights (IFRs) and community forest resource right (CFR).Now they are managing their forest according to their traditional way of management in order to maintain biodiversity as well as livelihood security integrating culture and their traditional practices. Gramsabha based village development process initiated by the MadikholeGramsabha and Community Forest Resource Conservation and Management Committee (CFR-CMC) formed under section 4(1) e of FRA.Convergence of all Government and non-Government. programmes are taking place with prior consent of the Gramsabha.

During this period the Kutiakondha Community has also initiated the habitat rights claim making process starting with consultation with the traditional leaders in collaboration with Kandhamal District Level Committee (DLC) there are about 168 habitations/settlements of Kutiakondha across the 7 GPs under Tumudibandha block , after the consultation the process begins with Desughati Gramsabah (Kutiakandha) by mapping their clan territories comprising of 14 “Padars”and resources, integrating their culture, economy, ecology and livelihood practices. FRA raised a hope of this community to secure rights, protect, conserve and manage their habitat from any unsustainable alteration.

Market based economy
Current economic development trend is indeed debatable on the basis of past, present and future of these two communities way of life. These two communities living close to nature are never considering as a part of the mainstream development, the formulation of developmental action plans are never discussed with them before implementation. In addition, the influence of market based economy made them to involve in resources extractive mode rather in sustainable harvest mode. So called destructive market influenced economy is threats to the biodiversity, community culture and also leading to conflicts at different level. For example the Madhikhole community who are initially consume wild mushroom for its high nutritional values now they are selling it in the market. The community is also now exposed to various productive farming process using chemicals and fertilizers instead of their traditional organic farming but the community at Desughati still practicing traditional agricultural and also not very much influenced by market based economy.

At the same time national developmental programme raises expectations which has its own limitation and target based implementation. Simultaneously market induced way of life makes their life miserable and increases their dependency over money. In the Madikhole village presently community is being pushed to involve in a range of activities like daily wage, utilization of land for mango orchard, domesticating hybrid goat and cultivating hybrid vegetable and so on. In the same time in DesughatiKutia communities less influenced and still depends on their traditional farming of millets, pulses, and oilseeds and indigenous tubers to meet their subsistence needs. Their culture and way of life is less affected by the development programmes but the current threats like non recognition of their habitat rights, teak plantation in their agriculture land and harassing them with forest offence cases.Again without understanding their culture and way of living, knowledge and skill many of these programmes are being planned and implemented which leads to further distress.

A way forward
The State Government should understand that the PVTGs are becoming increasingly vulnerable not because of the remoteness of location which deprived them from the benefits of the general programmes neither it is due to their less interest to negotiate and cope with the consequences of their involuntary integration with the mainstream economy, society, and cultural and political system but it is because of the loss of their customary habitats and non-recognition of their rights and livelihood resources which sustain them.This is leading to hunger/starvation, malnutrition and ill-health and erosion of tradition occupation, which is threatening their very survival, therefore the first objectives of all the developmental programmes must be on recognition of the rights of PVTGs to their land and habitat, and Forest Rights Act provides the scope for recognition of such category of rights enumerated under section 3(1)(e) of the Act. All the developmental programmes need to be integrated and implemented in a phased process with a common objective and understanding and also after taking the pre prior consent of the community,starting with as mentioned above recognition of rights over their customary habitat then followed by community approach to conservation cum development respecting their cultural ethos, values and traditional practices which must be tribal wise and need based. If this become possible then definitely their will a holistic and equitable development across the sections irrespective of various region and people.

1. Twelfth Five Year Plan (2012-2017): Social Sector: Volume III
2. Recommendations of the National Advisory Council on “Development Challenges Specific to Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs)”
3. “Unbroken History of Broken History” by Dr. B. D. Sharma
4. Singh. K.S (1982) Transformation of Tribal Society: Integration Vs Assimilation Economic and Political weekly Vol XVI No.33 Aug 14th P.1312-20

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