Natural resources in forests should not be exploited at the cost of tribals living there, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday said, favouring stringent action against those who "snatch" away their land and rights.
Inaugurating the first national tribal carnival at the Indira Gandhi Indoor stadium, Modi said his government had initiated a number of measures for tribal welfare and launched a campaign for providing land rights to them.
Insisting that development and preservation of forests can go hand in hand, the prime minister called for economic development of tribal areas by setting up a web of over 100 rurban (rural-urban)centres across the country.
He also called for modernising mining techniques to help preserve forests and reduce pollution, while economically empowering the tribals through effective marketing of their produce.
"For generations, tribals are protecting forests and fending for themselves while farming on small pieces of land. Neither do they have any document nor lease deeds (to show their ownership), they are living off what their forefathers have given them. But due to changing rules, tribals are now sometimes facing problems.
"Government of India with the support of states is running a campaign and providing land to them. Tribals should get their rights and this is our priority. No one in this country should have the opportunity or the right to snatch their land...the government favours stern action in this regard," he said.
Modi said natural resources are mostly in forested areas which are inhabited by tribals and, while pursuing development goals, mineral resources should not be extracted in a way which is detrimental to their interests.
"There is need to extract iron ore, coal but it should not be done at the cost of tribals," he said.
The prime minister said, in the past, while iron ore and coal were extracted, tribal people of mineral bearing areas never benefited from it. He said following the introduction of a scheme to impose cess, the money so collected is now being utilised to expand facilities, including infrastructure, to benefit the tribals.
The government, Modi said, is now pushing for advanced technology which ensures that the environment is not severely affected in the process of mining.
He favoured use of modern technology in mining besides gasification of coal at underground excavation sites to help control pollution and damage to the health of the people in surrounding areas.
The prime minister, who witnessed an enthralling carnival parade, said it was the first time tribal groups from across the country would be in Delhi on Diwali. He said the tribal carnival would showcase the capabilities of the tribal communities.
The prime minister said India was a land of great diversity and the carnival offered a small glimpse of that.
"India is a country full of diversities. In a vast country like ours, preserving diversity and presenting it as India's unity will help strengthen the nation," he said.
The prime minister said the life of tribals was marked by intense struggle, yet they had imbibed the ideals of community living and of living cheerfully despite troubles.
"Tribals have a lot of potential and this needs to be recognised and promoted. We need to help strengthen the economic power of tribals," he said.
Modi said he was fortunate to have done social work among tribals in his youth. He recalled that it is difficult to hear a complaint escape their lips and exhorted those living in urban areas to draw inspiration from them.
He said it was former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who created a separate ministry of tribal affairs in the Central government.
"Through various pro-tribal welfare schemes, our government is working in the direction of taking care of the needs of tribals," he said.
The prime minister said change could not come for the tribal communities through a top down approach. He said it was necessary to make the tribal communities real stakeholders in the development process.
Modi also pitched for start-ups to brand and export tribal goods to domestic and foreign markets. He said once people start buying goods manufactured by tribals, it would help in their economic empowerment.
He complimented the tribal communities for their role in conservation of forests and said most of our natural resources and forests were found in the same parts of the country, as tribal communities. He said while resources had to be harnessed, exploitation of tribals cannot not be allowed.
Modi said the District Mineral Foundation, envisaged in the last Union Budget, would help channelize funds for the development of the tribal communities. He said this decision would unlock huge amounts of money for development of the mineral rich districts.