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Ramesh echo in Naveen plan

- Eye on Assembly poll, chief minister set to woo tribal people

Bhubaneswar, Jan. 14: If Union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh sought to woo tribal people with sops at Lanjigarh yesterday, the Naveen Patnaik-led BJD government is planning to do one better.

In response to Ramesh’s announcement about providing the Indira Awas dwellings and metalled roads to the Dongria and Kutia Kondhs at Lanjigarh in particular, and the Niyamgiri area in general, the chief minister is likely to come up with a slew of welfare measures for the tribal people.

Mandarins of the scheduled caste and scheduled tribe welfare department are working out details of the schemes to be announced on January 26. “We are giving final touches to the schemes. We can’t divulge anything at the moment,” said a senior official.

Chief secretary Bijoy Patnaik today chaired a high-level meeting at the secretariat in this regard. Among other things, the meeting discussed the approval of action plan for the focus area development programme and the manpower development at the Integrated Tribal Development Agency level.

Sources said that with an eye on the elections, the state government is contemplating increasing the quota for the tribals and Dalits in the educational institutions to boost its pro-tribal image. At present, the tribals and Dalits are entitled to 20 per cent reservation in educational institutions and 38.26 per cent in government jobs. This, according to sources, will to take a quantum jump shortly.

In another development, the state government has signed an MoU with the Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) to bring all the eight lakh kendu-leaf pluckers and binders, the majority of them tribals, under insurance cover.

Taking one more step towards keeping its tribal votebank intact, the government yesterday announced that the wages of kendu-leaf pluckers would increase by 66 per cent and the price of kendu leaf per kerry (each consisting of 20 leaves) would go up by 50 per cent. The government has also announced that kendu leaf binders would be given lanterns, mosquito nets and blankets.

On the coming Republic Day, the government is also planning to organise the traditional Adivasi Mela here on a much bigger scale. The tribal people from all over the state will attend the event. The fair provides a platform to them to showcase their arts and crafts, apart from cuisine, which a large number of people are still not familiar with.

Sources in the BJD said the chief minister was keenly aware of the political significance of Ramesh’s visit to Lanjigarh in the tribal-dominated Kalahandi district and the announcements made by him to woo the members of the Dongria and Kutia Kondh tribes. The two tribes have been engaged in a battle with the state government and a private corporate house to stall the mining of Niyamgiri hills, their traditional habitat, for bauxite.

The move is significant considering that the Congress, with a strength of 27 in the Assembly, has 13 tribal MLAs, and the party is keen to retain its hold on its tribal constituency. However, the BJD, with 20 tribals among its 109 MLAs in the House, is determined to make deep inroads into the Congress’s tribal strongholds.