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World Bank defers aid after tribal cry

Ranchi, Oct. 18: The World Bank has deferred financing the Rs 1,177-crore Jharkhand Social Forestry Project, following hectic lobbying by tribal leaders to ensure that finances to the state are withheld till all institutions guaranteeing safety of the community are in place.

Tribal leaders from Jharkhand have also demanded that all World Bank finances to the state be withheld till the Centre accepts the bank’s view that all scheduled tribes be treated as indigenous peoples.

The bank, in a revision of its earlier policy document, has also insisted that all state-level joint forest management schemes be immediately converted into community forest management to ensure active participation of the ultimate beneficiaries.

The World Bank decision comes in the wake of a grim battle being waged by tribal leaders from Jharkhand, who are supported by NGOs from all over the country, sources told The Telegraph. They pointed out that, contrary to its declared objectives, World Bank-funded projects in Jharkhand have only helped marginalise the poor and impoverished tribals.

The community leaders claim that thousands of tribals — uprooted from their ancestral lands more than two decades ago — are yet to be rehabilitated in Subarnarekha Multipurpose Project. Besides, there was no trace of the hundreds of deep tubewells sunk and roads and bridges constructed under the Bihar Plateau Development Project.

In both these projects, they alleged, the World Bank lost crores of rupees without any benefit percolating to the tribals — the ultimate beneficiaries.

Beginning in 1947, tribals had actively responded to the call of Central leaders to donate all land for development, asserted former vice-chancellor of Ranchi University and noted anthropologist, Ram Dayal Munda. The results after five decades have, however, been disastrous, claimed Munda.

While large industries and big dams have come up in the Jharkhand region in a big way, poor tribals have been pushed further into the forests with the fruits of development passing them by altogether.

The academician said they have pointed out to the World Bank that the tribals have already begun to strike back with the local population stalling work on the 420-mw Koel Karo hydro-electric project.

Regarding the Jharkhand social forestry project, for which the government has approached the bank to preserve and expand forest cover, Munda said most of the existing forest cover was actually village forests, which the forest department is trying to pass off as state forests.

There are numerous success stories throughout the state where villagers have nurtured and protected their forests.

“Though not a single forest official has so far bothered to visit even one such forest, the department has been claiming all such forests as their own,” Munda thundered.

To add to the problems, Munda pointed out that in a recent review of its policy, the World Bank has conceded that all scheduled tribes are essentially indigenous peoples. However, till date the Centre has refused to concede the bank views.

Munda added that they have been lobbying with the World Bank not to go ahead with financing the Jharkhand social forestry project till the Centre conceded the existence of indigenous people on their soils.

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