The UPA-II move to appoint Xaxa Committee for the Vanvasis is yet another desperate attempt to win back the Vanvasi vote-bank sliding out of its reach.
It is a classic case of reaping benefits sans responsibility. The recent decision of the Manmohan Singh Government to appoint a high level committee to study and assess the status of the tribal communities of India is the recent example in the series of announcements it has made keeping an eye on the electoral benefits. The Direct Benefits Transfer Scheme, the Food Security Programme, the Land Acquisition Bill and now this committee for tribals. The UPA II Government has left everything for the fag end of its tenure. It clearly wants to reap the electoral benefits without facing the responsibility of the more important aspects of their implementation and impact.
The experience of the much lauded Sachar Committee appointed during the UPA I tenure to study and assess the status of the Muslim community is still fresh in the public memory. This committee proved to be a talking tom and nothing else, for no effective action was initiated by the government to implement its recommendations. But, it had earned the sympathy and votes of the Muslims who somehow distanced them from the Congress Party.
And now the UPA II has come out with this high level committee for the tribals.
Among the members of the committee majority are Christians. The Chairman Virginius Xaxa is a converted tribal who has been made the member of Sonia’s National Advisory Council (NAC) recently. He is currently Professor at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Guwahati. Whether this committee will be impartial as far as the welfare of the janjati communities is concerned is the most important question. The possibility of converted Christian tribals getting the fair treatment and bagging large chunk of benefits cannot be ruled out entirely.
Prof Virginius was first taken to NAC in place of Aruna Roy in June this year by Sonia Gandhi and then appointed to head this committee. The other members are Usha Ramanathan, an expert on law and poverty; social scientist Joseph Brara; anthropologist K K Misra; community and public health expert Dr Abhay Bang, and bureaucrat Sunila Basant.
The committee will prepare a report on the overall socio-economic, health and educational status of the tribal communities and submit it to the government in nine months with its recommendations. The report will give an idea about the areas in which the government can intervene to address issues related to the tribal communities. The committee will suggest policy initiatives as well as effective outcome-oriented measures to improve development indicators and strengthen public service delivery to tribal population. The committee will assess whether the safeguards guaranteed under the Constitution are being effectively implemented and if there are adequate safeguards and structures for implementation of protective legislations such as Prevention of Atrocities Act and Forest Rights Act.
The tribal population of the country accounts for 8.6 per cent of the total population of 1.27 billion. Most of them live in most inaccessible areas, undeveloped, with high illiteracy rate, very poor healthcare facilities and mostly malnourished. This despite the special status granted to them by the Constitution. During the last 60-plus years of Independence with the Congress Party ruling most of the time at the Centre and in states, their socio-economic, educational and healthcare status has remained deplorable. On the contrary, they were exposed to more exploitation at the hands of the government officials and agencies, private contractors and businessmen, unfriendly forest laws, intrusion in their areas by the infiltrators coming from across the border and the menace of conversion to Christianity unleashed by the Christian missionary and various church organisations. The Maoists and Naxalites have established strong bases in their midst in the mainland while the anti-India elements have made inroads into the tribal communities in the North-eastern region.
Many social activists working for amelioration of these forest-dwellers have taken exception to the formation of this committee, especially its timing and members. The fact that this exercise is undertaken at the fag end of the term of the UPA II makes this a clearly politically move to woo the tribal voters who have of late distanced from Congress Party in tribal-dominated states like Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat. The massive development and service activities undertaken by the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in the form of ‘Ekal Vidyalaya’, have won the confidence of these ‘janjatis’ towards the truly nationalists forces. This has been the cause of worry for Sonia-led UPA.
If the report is delivered in time it would be in the month of May 2014 when the general elections would be round the corner. The government obviously would not have time to act on the recommendations of the committee.
This new committee was not at all needed to ensure good healthcare, education and employment opportunity amongst the tribal communities to ameliorate their status. Effective measures in these respects would have been sufficient. Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh State governments have accomplished the objective of improving the standard of the janjatis. Integrating tribal communities into the mainstream ought to be the objective without in anyway assailing their customs, language, way of life, etc. But more than sixty years after Independence, Congress has treated tribal communities as mere vote-banks. The latest committee smacks of a clear electoral agenda.