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Tata, Ford funds hope for tribal belt in east

New Delhi, Dec. 2: Money donated as part of companies’ corporate social responsibility will help fund a government project to improve livelihoods in the tribal areas of states such as Bengal, Odisha and Jharkhand.

Indian and foreign private philanthropic bodies have pledged money for the Bharat Rural Livelihood Foundation, set up by the government last month. Sources said the Tata Trust had promised Rs 10 crore and the Ford Foundation, $1.5 million (Rs 9.35 crore).

The foundation will pay civil society groups to prod villagers into participating in existing livelihood schemes in larger numbers, and to provide them skills training.

According to Union rural development secretary L.C. Goyal, the government will put in Rs 500 crore while another Rs 500 crore will come from private companies and philanthropic organisations. Interest from the corpus will fund the project.

What triggered the project is the poor implementation of programmes such as the rural job guarantee scheme and the National Rural Livelihood Mission (which targets women’s self-help groups) in tribal areas because of poor participation by households.

“The idea is to involve civil society groups to assess the local gaps (and work out) how to involve more of the targeted people,” Goyal told The Telegraph.

The project will target 170 districts with over 20 per cent tribal population in Bengal, Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Gujarat.

It could not be ascertained which districts of Bengal are included but sources said Purulia, West Midnapore and Bankura are definitely on the list.

Social activist Mihir Shah has been appointed president of the foundation, to which the ministry will soon provide Rs 200 crore.

Goyal said the NGOs paid by the foundation would also provide rural youths with skills training, for instance, as electricians, mechanics or telephone operators. The villagers could also be taught to process and market farm products and add value to minor forest produce.

After the foundation was proposed in last year’s budget, rural development minister Jairam Ramesh had written to the Tatas, Reliance, Infosys and Wipro asking them to get involved in the project.

Ministry sources said several other organisations such as the State Bank of India, Bank of India, Coal India Limited and Steel Authority of India Limited had shown interest in joining the initiative.

Government officials said civil society groups had helped improve the implementation of welfare programmes in several states. They cited, as an example, the Ramakrishna Mission’s work in mobilising communities for watershed management projects in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.

Social activist Shekhar Singh, however, cautioned that the NGOs drafted into the project must be monitored closely.

“We have seen many programmes under which NGOs are funded. But these programmes are not very effective because the funds are given without proper scrutiny of these organisations. Their activities are not properly monitored,” Singh said.

The Council of Social Development, a Delhi-based NGO, said the project would help companies meet their corporate social responsibility target, which has recently been raised to two per cent of their profits.