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Govt focus on tribal welfare

Calcutta, Nov. 29: The state government has decided to create a tribal development department on December 3, the move apparently aimed at focusing on projects in the tribal-dominated areas of Jungle Mahal and north Bengal ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.

The department, to be headed by chief minister Mamata Banerjee, will be carved out of the backward classes welfare department.

The tribal development department will be launched at a programme in Netaji Indoor Stadium.

The backward classes welfare department looks after projects for the Scheduled Tribes, the Scheduled Castes and the Other Backward Classes.

A senior official at Nabanna, the new state secretariat on the other side of the Hooghly, said tribals made up 6 per cent of Bengal’s population of 9 crore.

The majority of the tribals live in Jungle Mahal and the north Bengal districts.

“The chief minister’s decision to take charge of the proposed department makes it clear that she wants to focus on these areas,” an official said.

A senior minister in Mamata’s cabinet said the government wanted to lay stress on Jungle Mahal and north Bengal in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls next year.

“We won most Jungle Mahal seats in the July panchayat polls. But the chief minister feels that if the state fails to carry out development projects in the deprived area, the tribal populace will lose hope,” the minister said.

He added that Mamata also wanted to undertake more development projects for the tribal populace of north Bengal.

“They have been deprived for years. Now, the chief minister will personally look after them. This will help us gain more support in these areas,” the minister said.

Officials said the new department would look after all welfare schemes for the tribals.

The backward classes welfare department runs several projects, including old-age pension for 1.3 lakh people belonging to the Scheduled Tribes, the eScheduled Castes and the Other Backward Classes.

“Each beneficiary gets Rs 1,000 a month. Of the 1.3 lakh beneficiaries, about 25,000 are tribals. The new department will look after the pension scheme for the tribal beneficiaries,” another official said.

The new department will also monitor the central tribal sub-plan, which envisions projects for tribal-dominated areas.

Scholarships for tribal students will also come under the jurisdiction of the new department.

“As the department will be under the chief minister, it is expected that these projects will gain momentum,” another minister said.