Millennium Post

'Van' as 'Dhan'

‘Van Dhan Yojana’ aims to bring more financial power and self-sufficiency to the tribes of India by involving them in all stages of NTFP based enterprises

Van Dhan Yojana' (VDY) is a tribal-specific development scheme that seeks to address a gap in inclusive development scheme of the current administration (Sabka Vikas). Scheduled Tribes constitute around 8 per cent (10 crore plus) of India's population. Of these, 50 per cent still live in their traditional habitat, which is generally the forest. The natural resources available in forests are timber and a category of produce labelled non-timber forest produces (NTFP). This wide-spanning category includes various tree-borne oil-seeds, herbs, tamarind, 'mahua', honey, 'kosa', bamboo, etc. Timber is nationalised, hence out of consideration. PESA, 1996, granted ownership rights of NTFP to the tribal gram sabhas. Therefore, NTFP is the singular resource around which the tribal economy revolves and around which tribal development efforts would be most fruitful. The fact that the tribes have centuries of traditional knowledge and skill relating to NTFP activities makes it a logical go-to resource for tribal development.

The value of NTFP in raw form in India is estimated to be over Rs 2,00,000 crore a year. This is an underestimated (and therefore, neglected) sector. It is a sector infested by exploitative practices of middlemen. The result is that the tribal gatherer of NTFP receives just around 20 per cent of the end-price while 80 per cent is cornered by middlemen. Adding to such woes, due to a slightly lower priority assignation of the Government towards NFTP (dubbed as 'minor forest produces') as a potential game-changer for tribal development, the NTFP forests are dwindling, thus further choking the tribes in their natural habitat. It should not be surprising then that forest-tribal areas in Jharkhand, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and other states are also the hotbeds of left-wing extremism (LWE).

The interventions and schemes for tribal development have generally missed this point. Tribal development efforts have, at best, had a nominal impact. The heart of the matter lies in designing and implementing a programme of NTFP-centric tribal development. The guiding principles of such a strategy include:

Actualising the tribes' ownership rights over NTFP by forming collectives (SHGs) of tribal women to collectively manage the trade and processing of NTFP; thus, cutting or greatly diluting the role of middlemen. At present, the ownership rights of tribes over NTFP has been largely symbolic.

Enhancing the production of NTFP through NTFP afforestation, and measures like tree care, pest control, constructive harvesting, etc.

Ensuring fair and remunerative price to the tribal NTFP gatherer, through measures like MSP for NTFP, direct state intervention wherever required, strengthening mandi supervision over the trade of NTFP, etc. All of these measures exist to enforce fair trade practices in NTFP Promotion of value addition to NTFP locally, by locals, to enhance their income from NTFP.

VDVY is an umbrella scheme that has been built using the aforementioned principles for NTFP-centric tribal development.

The success of the programme would depend on a shift from token-budget, symbolic approach to tribal development with a hands-down, big-bang approach. To create such an impact, 3,000 Van Dhan Vikas Kendras have been planned in strategic tribal villages across India. These Kendras will be common facility centres for primary processing of NTFP, locally procured by local tribal women. Secondary and tertiary facilities for value addition have also been planned. The budget estimated for VDVY is Rs 1,000 crore, in phases. Any cuts in this regard or attempts to shift to a piecemeal approach are likely to repeat the errors of the past, namely, desiring big impact but thinly spreading a small investment.

The programme has multi-sectoral importance. These include the following:

It is crucial to the national promise of inclusive development NTFP is largely a women's business, as such VDVY has a strong promise for women's empowerment Since the programme relates largely to forest-tribal areas, VDY is bound to have a strong positive effect on LWE TRIFED, in partnership with 22 state governments including Chattisgarh, Odisha, Maharashtra, Gujrat, Nagaland, Manipur, Sikkim, Karnataka, Kerala, TN, MP, Andra Pradesh, UP, Assam, etc has set up 1,206 VanDhan Kendras in the tribal heartlands of the country putting almost 3.5 lakh tribal gatherers on an enterprising path. The VDVKS comprise of more than 18,000 SHGs of 20 tribal gatherers each. A GIS-based 'e-Sampark Setu' website, and VanDhan App will create a seamless two-way communication channel from the VDVKs to the Central Project Management Unit at TRIFED.

In partnership with premier technical institutes like IITs and IIMs, TRIFED has planned a 'Tech for Tribals' programme. An ambitious training programme has been put in place to train tribal gatherers to be producers and marketing entities to take the products to national and international markets. The 'Tech for Tribals' programme will create world-class packaging, and branding with its retail units being planned through collaboration with the Indian Institute of Packaging. A well-designed campaign to promote the products is on the anvil in collaboration with the best marketing and branding teams of the country.

So far, more than 18,000 SHGs comprised of tribal gatherers has been set up in 22 states of the country involving more than 3 lakh tribal families. These individuals are taking up the task of gathering, value addition and marketing of forest produce. Folks, there is lots happening. Watch out for the same in this space which will update you with tales of tribal enterprise and innovation.

The writer is the Managing Director of TRIFED, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India. Views expressed are strictly personal

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