State sets new paradigm for forest dwellers, Chhattisgarh leads states in recognising forest rights.

The two years of the Bhupesh Baghel government in Chhattisgarh have brought about a change in the remote and forest areas of the state. Congress didn’t stop at the pre-existing policies, but devised new ones to ensure access to economic, social, cultural and political justice to the forest dwellers. These policies prioritise tribals’ income, while also focusing on the betterment of education, health and employment system for the forest dwellers. The state is now evoking forest-based economy through local resources just as the government has managed to build an agro-based economy for the farmers in the state.

The state government has adopted strategies for streamlining the collection of forest produce, creating an exploitation-free system of marketing, providing the right price to the forest produce collectors and benefiting from value addition through the processing of minor produce to increase the income of the forest dwellers. High quality Tendu leaves being the major source of income for the forest dwellers of Chhattisgarh, the forest produce collectors kept awaiting a fair pay despite the gradual increase in the rate of tendu leaf collection wages in the 18 years of state formation. The Bhupesh Baghel government turned the years-long chapter and increased the remuneration rate to Rs 4,000 per standard tendu leaf bag from Rs 2,500, thereby ensuring a growth in the income of about 13 lakh such families by as much as 60%. The state government has also ensured protection from accidental risks to such families by launching a social security scheme, namely Shaheed Mahendra Karma Tendupatta Sangrahak Samajik Suraksha Yojna.

In a bid to help the forest dwellers, the number of minor forest produce procured in Chhattisgarh has been increased from 7 to 52 in the past two years. The emphasis on minor forest produce in the current economy is evident from the fact that, even when the state’s whole economic activities came to a standstill owing to the COVID-induced nationwide lock-down, the state government arranged for the smooth operation of collection of agriculture and forest produce in the state. Chhattisgarh collected 73% of the country’s total forest produce even amid the lock-down restrictions. Minor Forest Produce Development Corporation and self-help groups in the Haat-Bazaars serve as the direct link between the produce collectors and government to procure the forest products and ensure maximum returns to the collectors.

The state’s new industrial policy primarily aims to establish agriculture and forest produce based industries. 200 food parks being established in all the development blocks of the state will ensure value addition of the forest produce collectors. Government has taken initiatives to set up tamarind-based small-scale industry in Sukma district, maize-based in Kondagaon, bamboo-based in Bijapur and sitaphal (Custard apple)-based industries and small scale industries in Kanker. Collection centres have been set up in 839 haat-bazaars of forest areas and van-dhan (processing) centres in 139 haat-bazaars. More than 50,000 women of 5500 self-help groups are engaged in primary processing work of minor and forest produce. The work of value addition to forest minor produce is providing employment to forest dwellers and women self-help groups besides enhancing their income.

During the last few decades, agricultural activities in forest areas have also enhanced in the states with farmers adopting modern farming techniques. Considering the increasing potential of the agriculture sector, the state government has started expanding facilities for the forest dwellers. This vision has already started taking shape. Under Narva Programme, an important part of the Chhattisgarh government’s Suraaji Gaon Yojana, a large number of rivers and rivulets across all districts of the state are being revived and conserved. A total of 12, 56,000 structures are being built on the rivers/drains in the forest areas of the entire state. Out of these, 10,77,000 have been completed. Bodhghat multipurpose project in Bastar division, which was pending for 40 years has been restarted once again for the development of irrigation resources. The farmers of three districts – Sukma, Dantewada and Bijapur would immensely benefit from this Rs 22,653 crore scheme when completed. Through this, a new irrigation system will be constructed in an area of 3, 66, 580 hectares.

Chhattisgarh has emerged as a leading state in the country in recognising individual and community forest rights by expiating the forest land lease allocation to the forest dependent people under the The Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006. Till now, individual forest rights papers to more than 4.41 lakh individuals and more than 46,000 community forest rights papers have been distributed. In this manner, individual and community forest rights has been allocated on 51.06 lakh acres of land in the state. For the first time in Chhattisgarh, In addition to providing individual and community forest rights to forest dwellers, the government has also given recognition to the community forest resource rights to the gram sabhas, in order to strengthen the local economy of villages located in forest areas, so as to let them use the natural resources for their community development. More than 700 such community forest resource rights have been provided to Gram Sabhas.

Chhattisgarh being a mineral rich state, most of its mines are situated in the forest areas. District Mineral Foundation (DMF) has now been allocated for local development of such areas and to mitigate the plight of mining-affected people in Chhattisgarh. The DMF Funds will now be utilised for the crucial subjects like health, education and employment in the affected areas. In order to improvise the scope of industrial activities in forest areas, the rate of compensation in the event of land acquisition has been increased to 4 times under the new rules. The government has also ensured that the industries start operating on the acquired land within the stipulated time so that the locals also get employment out of the projects including other benefits. Notably, 42,000 acres of agricultural land was returned to 1707 tribal farmers of Lohandiguda area of Bastar after an industry failed to be established even after 5 years of land acquisition.

The Chhattisgarh government has taken several initiatives to make health services more accessible to people and to improve treatment standards, an ambitious Mukhyamantri Haat Bazaar Clinic Scheme is being operated in the state run Haat-Bazaars to provide medial check-up and medicine distribution facilities to every last person in the remote areas. Under this scheme, so far, 12, 12, 564 people from remote areas have been benefited. The government is also conducting Malaria Mukt Bastar Abhiyan to eradicate malaria from Bastar Division. The said campaign was completed in two phases. This has led to a decrease of more than 65 percent in malaria cases in Bastar division. The Mukhyamantri Suposhan Abhiyan launched in 2019, is also under function to exterminate anaemia and malnutrition among women and children and has resulted into 77,000 malnutrition free children.

Bastar Region Tribal Development Authority, Surguja Region Tribal Development Authority and Central Zone Tribal Development Authority have been formed for the overall development of scheduled castes and tribes in the state. This has ensured the participation of local people in the development of tribal areas. The government has taken to the strategy of development, trust and security has initiated a peaceful dialogue with people. Special negotiations with aggrieved people are being endeavoured and the cases of falsely implicated individuals are being withdrawn after proper investigation.

With the schools being shut since March amid the nation-wide COVID-19 crisis, the forest areas have suffered equally. Administration’s innovative academic program “Padhai Tuhar Duar” ensured online schooling in areas of the state with stable internet connectivity, whereas offline classes were conducted on loudspeakers, for the students in the remote and forest areas with weak network connectivity under ‘Padhai Tuhar Para’ program. Moreover, to provide the study material, with the help of ‘Bulatu Ke Bol’ program, audio lessons were made available to the parents via Bluetooth connectivity even in the haat-bazaars. Schools that have been inoperative for years were also restarted by the government in order to strengthen the education infrastructure in the Naxal affected regions. So far, 300 such schools have started operating already.

The Bhupesh Baghel government has focused well on preserving the Chhattisgarhia pride and culture. Along with weaving economic changes in the tribal areas, the state government has also formulated plans and programs for the cultural development of the state. To achieve the goal, the government has taken an initiative by establishing a tribal museum in Jashpur. National Tribal Dance Festival was also organised in the state capital Raipur for the first time ever with over 2500 participants from 25 states and union territories. The event also featured artists from other countries including Sri Lanka, Belarus, Maldives, Thailand and Uganda.