The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dole for environment with eye on poll

Mandla (Madhya Pradesh), April 12: Madhya Pradesh today became the first state to reward those who looked after their environment and forest wealth.

With an eye on the forthcoming Assembly polls and the tribal vote bank, Congress president Sonia Gandhi doled out Rs 100 crore to 14 forest and eco-conservation societies that the Madhya Pradesh government had passed on to tribals as part of a scheme to let tribals look after forest wealth and give 10-20 per cent of the profits generated from sales conducted by the state.

Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh grinning from ear to ear, as was the Congress president. The success of the scheme once again proved that the Congress was a party with a difference, she told a mammoth crowd on the outskirts of Mandla. “We deliver what we promise,” she said.

The Congress chief then charged the BJP with playing politics with God and practising corruption as “dharma”. “They remember God and religion only during elections. If they treat God like this, I shudder to think how they will treat human beings,” she said.

Sonia pointed out that in 1998-99 the BJP had promised swarg (heaven), but today the life of an average citizen had become hell. “They promised one crore jobs a year. Today, even educated youths are not getting employment. They are just good at pitting one against another,” she asserted.

The Congress leader asked voters to judge political parties on the basis of their performance. She showcased the Digvijay regime as a “model one”, saying she has been conducting periodical reviews of the performance of the government in Congress-ruled states. “The forum provides opportunities for chief ministers of states to learn from one another,” she said.

The chief minister said the reward scheme was part of a joint forest management programme that his government was running with tribals. “As a result of the decision to distribute dividend of timber and bamboo to forest committees to the tune of Rs 100 crore, about seven lakh families would benefit,” he said.

This, Digvijay said, was in addition to the tendu leaf bonus of Rs 100 crore given to pluckers and their societies. The forest and eco-conservation societies have the option of distributing 75 per cent of the money received among members or reinvesting it in other projects, he said.

The chief minister also announced that “minor offences” under forest laws would be withdrawn. The new laws had posed problems for tribals, as they were not aware of them and often “innocent tribals” were caught, he pointed out.

Digvijay urged the Centre to arrive at a consensus on issues such as what constitutes a “forest”. Sources said there were more than five lakh cases of “minor offences” in the state.

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