Using corporate community involvement to fight tribal extremism


By Suresh Kr Pramar

At a workshop on Skills Development a few months ago at Ranchi the Chief Minister Arjun Munda made a strong appeal to business houses to use their CSR budgets to provide the much needed relief for the urban and rural populations, particularly tribals, of the state. Arjun Mundaa stressed on the need for business to use their resources and skills to help eliminate poverty and want and to provide sustainable livelihoods for the people.

The Jharkhand Chief Minister said those who were deprived of their land for the establishment of industries and other development projects expect more than just cash compensation for their sacrifice.

Displaced persons expect companies to provide them alternative avenues of employment and a means to live a dignified life. It is not enough that the people are employed as peons and guards. He said even these position were handed out to people brought in from outside the state. Companies, he said, need to adopt a manpower policy which will train the locals in skills required by the company.

Arjun Munda highlighted the fact that lack of opportunities was feeding resentment in the people against business and the established law and order authority. This resentment and frustration was providing cannon fodder for extremist groups. Extremist groups were fanning the resentment among the people to swell their ranks and strengthen their policies and programmes.

The Chief Minister pointed out that it was in the long term interest of business to ensure that the people in their operational area are happy and contented. A well disposed community would insure that the unit is able to function without undue hinderance.

He said it was evident that the anger of the extremists was directed towards the exploitation of natural resources of the state by business with almost nil benefit for the people of the state. The Chief Minister expressed the hope that industrial units in the state will tailor their CSR Agenda to create opportunities urgently required by the population.

Arjun Munda raised an issue that is being faced by all the new states which are promoting industrial development in the tribal belts of their states. Conditions are the same in the tribal belts of Orissa, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and others. Of the 86 million tribals who make up 8.4 percent of the country’s population, 80 percent live in Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Northern Maharashtra and Southern Gujarat.

Large tribal groups have been displaced to facilitate the setting up of industries, mining activities, and the construction of dams and other large projects, which provide them very few benefits. Since independence, the tribals are the only people who are still expected to bear the costs of development projects.

The pay the highest price of national development because their regions are resource rich.

Ninety percent of all coal and around 50 percent of the remaining minerals are in their regions

Resource rich tribal areas came to be treated only as suppliers of raw materials whose benefits are denied to them  but reach the urban middle class and the rural upper classes. The situation has not changed since independence. During British Rule the country was turned into a supplier capital and raw materials for the European Industrial Revolution and a captive market for its finished products.

The present economic development trend continues to impoverish the tribals and other rural poor to the benefit of another class. The benefits of large scale expansion of industries and  infrastructure, does not reach these tribals . Employment opportunities are denied to them. Overall development of tribal areas has had a deleterious effect on tribals. They are increasingly subjected to oppression and exploitation. This has contributed to rise of Naxalite movements.

Most surveys have indicated that industrialization has worsened the condition of the tribal population. Austrian anthropologist Haimendorf who did a study of the tribals has pointed out that they have suffered because of increased economic development. “How do you explain the fact that their communities that were self-reliant thirty years ago today need State subsidies? Their  women had a high status three decades ago. How have they lost it today?”.

People embrace Naxalism due to present model of development. It gains popularity by focusing on attainment of tribal self determination and control over local resources. Naxalites have  attacked both private companies and government institutions. The government has reacted in a stubborn manner, seeing it as only a ‘internal security threat’ and ignoring the feeling of neglect being felt by the tribals.

Tribals, according to 2001 census, in Jharkhand constituted only 26.3 percent of the population. The past decades has been a story of eviction and marginalization of the tribal population. They have bore the brunt of predatory industrialization and mining, resulting in the widespread eviction since the decades when the first Tata Steel Company was established in the 1930s. Some have even claimed that the Steel Plant was built on Tribal land after a friendly British administration brutally evicted large sections  of the population from the area.

This process has continued with Damodar Valley Corporation, Heavy Engineering Corporation in Ranchi, numerous power projects and mines coming up in the state over the past six decades. In the globalization period, the state has signed 74 MoUs with different companies, which include mining and steel plants by ArcelorMittal, Bhushan Power & Steel, Jindal Steel, and thermal power plant and dam by ECSC.

The execution of these projects will result in displacement of thousands of persons – predominantly tribals, damage to the natural resources, flora and fauna, and diversion of rich agricultural land and forestland for non-agricultural purposes.

Despite massive investment, the human development indicators in Jharkhand are abysmally low. According to Planning Commission data, 40.3 percent of the population is living under the poverty line and the figure is almost twice that of all-India figures. Health indices show that only  34.2percent of the total child population in the age group of 12-23 months is fully immunized in the state, which is far behind the national average.

Another important set of indicators of development relate to education as it improves the quality of life by adding human capital. The overall literacy rate is 58 percent – only lower than the national average. Only 45 percent children above 10 years completed primary schooling in Jharkhand. Considering the availability of educational infrastructure, the number of pre-college institutions and schools per million people decreased from 817 in 2001-02 to 802 in 2005-06 which is not only unexpected from a democratic government, but also critical for a state, that severely lacked social infrastructure through the plan period.

Large-scale industrialization does not necessarily result in sustainable, inclusive development. There is little to show links between industrial expansion and people welfare. The poorly educated people, particularly the tribals, have remained excluded from the process of industrialization. The people of Jharkhand have not been able take advantage of whatever employment is created because of extremely poor levels of education and health.

Industrial units flocking to the state to take advantage of it’s rich mineral resources and the liberal tax concessions offered by the state have a responsibility towards the people, particularly the tribal population. The needs of the people are large, given the heavy backlog of neglect and deprivation. This requires business to increase their inputs of funds and skills to create educational and health facilities and to take more effective steps to increase livelihood and income generation.

Increased CSR spend in the state is a long term investment for industrial units which aspire to continue operations for a long time into the future. The state is already facing severe problems because of the increasing extremist activities. The state government’s industrial policy and the influx of out of the state investment into the mineral rich tribal areas is causing futhur resentment among the people.

There is a fear that the frustrated tribal youth would drift away from society and join the ranks of the extremists. Business need to heed to the call to the Chief Minister for their own good. There is a strong Business case for business o increase their community involvement in the state.

suresh kumar pramar(Suresh Kr Pramar,Trainer, Writer,  CSR Consultant and the Executive Director, Centre for Training & Research in Responsible Business is a veteran journalist presently actively involved in promoting CSR through his publication CRBiz and by conducting workshop on Corporate Social Responsibility. He can be reached at I 09213133042/9899305950)

Disclaimer:  The views expressed by the author in this feature are entirely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of INDIACSR

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