Mr Bhakta Charan Das, INC M.P., Kalahandi, Odisha

“Not enough is being done for the welfare of SCs and STs”

Lok Sabha M.P. from Kalahandi in Odisha, Mr Bhakta Charan Das has become the voice of the tribal community in Parliament. He has sincerely fought for the rights of the tribals over the years, both within and outside Parliament. Today he says that not enough has been done for the welfare of SCs and STs in Odisha. In fact, their interests are being jeopardized. Talking to India Empire’s Anjay Sinha, Mr Das didn’t even spare the local unit of the Congress for its failure to voice the concerns of these communities. Mr Das said it was high time that NGOs and NRIs stepped forward to help these communities raise their living standards. Their welfare and upliftment, after all, was an important and integral part of nation building
What schemes have been brought in by the BJD Government for the welfare of the STs and SCs?
The Government has failed on all fronts to help the tribals and scheduled castes as the entire state machinery is plagued with corruption. The BJD has been winning elections only because of money and muscle power. After getting elected, majority of its legislators get involved in looting the state’s rich resources. Each BJD candidate ends up spending anything between Rs 15 lakh and Rs 20 lakh in the zila poll. In contrast our candidates spend from Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000. So, what welfare measures you expect from such corrupt politicians.

Which are the areas where corruption has been rampant?
There is not a single area which is not infected with corruption. There are massive scams in mining, land deals, mid-day meal scheme etc. The high court judgement is awaited in one of the mining scams for the past 10 months. The Government has been very insensitive towards the poor as it has been catering to the aspirations of corporates only.

What is your take on the POSCO and Vedanta issues?
Each time the Government wants to bring in any new project, it ignores the opinion of the locals living in that particular area. How can we ignore the opinion of the locals, who are directly affected by such projects. For this, we must educate local people. We must discuss plus and minus factors of such projects with them. Then only we should go-ahead with such projects.

You say that there is large scale corruption in the state, what role the Centre has played to put an end to this menace?
Let me put it straight. Our party in the state is not capable enough to take the battle to the streets. But if our state unit highlights these issues, things will be different in the next two year. There are crimes in the running trains every day. But the RPF has no powers to act in these cases. There are several policies launched by the Centre for the welfare of the poor in the state. But the benefit of these schemes reaches just 20 to 30 per cent of the people as the rest is siphoned off by the corrupt officers.

Tell us about a few such welfare schemes?
Last year, the Centre placed a budget of Rs 244 crore for the rare community tribals. A series of programmes have been initiated under the Rural Development Ministry and the Tribal Ministry. There is an integrated action plan for the Maoists-affected areas. Each district gets Rs 54 crore under this plan.

How effective are the land acquisition laws in Odisha?
Our land acquisition policy is very weak. It helps only corporates. Land owners are deprived of the right value of their land. We should have policies which provide the maximum benefit to the poor.

The health index of the tribals in the state is quite pathetic. Why?
Doctors are scarce. Our infant mortality rate is very high. A large number of tribal women are suffering from anemia. The condition of the health-centres is very bad. Many hospitals don’t have life-saving drugs. I personally feel some good NGOs should get involved in the health sector. Also, NRIs should be encouraged to invest in the social sector. If any NRI is interested in setting up a major hospital, I will provide him land in my constituency.

You said NGOs and NRIs should be involved in the social sector. But there are cases where some NGOs have been accused of misusing funds?
Certainly yes. Some NGOs do misuse funds. Some even exploit our poor tribals. But there are good NGOs as well. We should also motivate NRIs to invest in various welfare sectors.

In the era of economic globalization, where do tribals stand?
Tribals have not benefited a bit in the era of economic globalization. We should mobilize them. We should educate them. Just by expanding rail and road network is no help for these people. The actual growth comes through education and awareness programmes. A large number of tribals are living in inhuman conditions. My heart bleeds for them, because we have done very little for their welfare.

What role you see of the banking sector in improving the financial health of the tribals in the country?
The banks need to be more cooperative and sensitive. Our banks have failed to help the poor tribals. They do not understand their needs and desires. The banks ask for a large number of documents which these tribals fail to produce. Thus, the schemes initiated by the banks exist in papers only. Their benefit never ever reaches out to these poor people. The need of the hour is to sanitize the banks, so that they are of some help to these poor communities.

March 2012

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