Empowerment is a multidimensional social process aimed at increasing the spiritual, political, social and economic strength of individuals as well as communities and also enabling individuals to develop confidence in their own capacities and act on their priorities. The current perspectives of tribal development under the Naveen Patnaik government underline empowerment as a key strategy to achieve holistic and inclusive development.
Odisha has the third highest tribal population in India with 62 Scheduled Tribe (S.T.) communities, including 13 designated Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) that are predominantly rural, with about 95 per cent of them residing in villages. The Scheduled Areas of Odisha comprise 13 districts and 119 Tribal Sub-Plan (TSP) blocks inhabited by about 55 per cent of the total tribal population. The tribal communities constitute the lower strata of the informal economy and are at various stages of empowerment and development.
The last two decades have been a watershed in tribal empowerment in Odisha because of the changing political scenario, inclusive pro-tribals policy and increased investment in the State government’s flagship programmes to address issues of development.
Faced with challenges on account of relative exclu sion, a steadily depleting livelihood base, illiteracy, poor access to rights and entitlements, and living in a subsistence economy, the tribal community has remained vulnerable to exploitation, distress migration and debt traps. Over the last two decades, the government of Odisha has championed several inclusive, holistic, participatory, community-driven, gender- and culture-sensitive empowerment and development initiatives.
Along with Central government schemes, the State has launched its own result-driven flagship programmes to improve low-lying development indicators and facilitate comprehensive development encompassing all sectors and sub-sectors. This is evident from the analysis of relevant time series data, the changing Human Development Index (HDI) of tribal districts, agricultural census and secured entitlements.
From an economic perspective, the tribal development scenario may be better understood by an analysis of the composite index and the service sector index in the tribal districts of Odisha, based on relevant time series data. An overall scenario of tribal development is depicted by the output in indicators such as per capita income, health, education, basic facilities and work participation. The development in the service sector may be seen as the landmark achievement of a progressive government and its strategic measures to alter the trends in tribal development.
What has contributed to the gradual sustainable changes in tribal empowerment and development in Odisha? The answer lies in the State-implemented innovative schemes and special measures, along with other Centre and State initiatives, that undertook a planned heterogeneous and area-specific approach considering real-time indicators. A few sectoral developments provide appraisals on the unique paradigms of tribal development.
According to the 2001 Census, the tribal literacy rate of Odisha was 37.37 per cent, with female literacy at 23.37 per cent; this rose to 52.24 per cent and 41.20 per cent respectively as the 2011 Census shows. In order to improve the educational indicators, multipronged strategies were adopted: Multi-Lingual Education (MLE) teachers were appointed; schools were set up in areas with a certain minimum number of children notwithstanding geographical barriers; parents were counselled; and the setting up of school management committees was expedited by the State government. In addition, special residential schools for tribal boys and girls known as the Ekalabya Model Residential Schools (EMRS) have been introduced to address institutional, governance, quality and financial issues in the sector of tribal education.
On the education front
The innovative mission “Suvidya” was launched in collaboration with the National Accreditation Board for Education and Training (NABET) and Quality Council of India (QCI) to standardise the management processes, systems and procedures in ST&SC Development (SSD) hostels to improve the basic services and obtain ISO 9001:2015 certification. The benefits of the programme extend to 5.7 lakh students in 6,500 SSD-run hostels.
The Anwesha scheme was launched to provide free education to S.T. and Scheduled Caste (S.C.) students in leading private schools in urban areas. In the wake of the new National Education Policy (NEP), the SAMHATI programme was launched so that 1.5 lakh students could avail themselves of primary education in their mother tongue. The result of all these efforts is reflected in the evidence-based progress of tribal education in the State.
Pioneer in land rights
The State government launched the Odisha Tribal Empowerment and Livelihoods Programme (OTELP) from 2002 onwards in a phased manner. This programme has now been extended to all the TSP blocks of the State. OTELP has now become a model for tribal development initiatives elsewhere in India as well. This model was also used to design the Odisha PVTG Empowerment & Livelihood Improvement Programme (OPELIP), which is jointly funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Government of Odisha to cover PVTGs across the State. The Focused Area Development Approach (FADP), Mission Jeevika and zero-budget natural farming are other real-time livelihood programmes in cluster approach are contributing to transformative changes in tribal economy both in TSP and non-TSP areas.
The government has expedited land allocation schemes such as Vasundhara, Mo Jami Mo Diha and encroachment settlement programmes in order to address the challenges posed by the de jure and de facto landlessness of the tribal communities. Amendments have been made in Regulation 2 of the Orissa Scheduled Areas Transfer of Immovable Property (OSATIP) Act of 1956 to prevent tribal land alienation. Odisha, which implemented the Forest Rights Act, 2006 rigorously, is a pioneer in settling the forest land rights of tribal people. These initiatives with a pro-tribal mindset substantially helped resolve issues of land rights and tenurial security.
With a view to ensuring access to sufficient, safe and nutritive food, the government has further subsidised the value of rice in the public distribution system (PDS) and fortified the supplementary nutrition programme of Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme with special feeding programmes such as Mamata and Janani Sisu Surakhya Karyakram for the better health of both mother and child. Integrating supplementary nutrition with primary health care and informal education is the unique feature of this initiative.
Naveen Patnaik, the Chief Minister of Odisha, was felicitated for his leadership in strategising health delivery systems towards effectively reducing the infant mortality rate (IMR) in the State, especially in tribal areas. There has been a marked reduction in the maternal mortality rate (MMR) and the IMR between 2006 and 2013, and an increase in percentage of institutional delivery during 2005 and 2015. Adding to the Rastriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY), the State government introduced the Odisha State Treatment Fund (OSTF) for the poor including tribal people for health care in multispecialty referral hospitals. In tribal areas, problems of institutional health facility has been addressed by involving PRI (panchayati raj institution) members, self-help groups (SHGs) and local NGOs for effective health delivery.
“Mission Shakti” has become the emblem of economic empowerment of tribal women’s SHGs through institutional thrift and credit; enterprise development; and relevant linkages. Political participation and advocacy by tribal women stands testimony to their political empowerment. The 50 per cent reservation of seats for women in panchayats, customised capacity-building of ST-PRI members to nurture their leadership for good governance has contributed progressively to their agenda. The Odisha Skill Development Authority (OSDA) has proved its efficiency in promoting tribal employment by way of developing competence among tribal youth for jobs in the organised sector.
The State government believes that cultural conservation is integral to tribal development and for that the government has empowered statutory Tribal Advisory Council and launched Special Development Councils in nine thickly populated tribal districts for the protection, conservation and propagation of tribal culture and the preservation of tribal identity. The establishment of culture clubs, renovation of traditional tribal haats (marketplaces), conservation of sacred groves, revitalising traditional games and sports, reviving intangible tribal culture, and the setting up of tribal museums all stand testimony to the State’s endeavour to preserve tribal culture.
Aptly, what factors in positive trends in tribal empowerment and development in Odisha is the efficient implementation of government programmes, strategic area specific plans, resource bridging and convergence, and pragmatic insightful novel initiatives.
A.B. Ota is a Professor of Anthropology, former Revenue Divisional Commissioner (Central Division), and currently Director cum Special Secretary, SC & ST Research and Training Institute (TRI Odisha), Bhubaneswar.