Union tribal affairs minister Jual Oram, 54, calls himself an accidental politician. Of late, he has been engaged in a very public turf war with Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar on easing the rules for having large-scale industrial projects in tribal areas. For the moment, the law ministry has backed Oram on the Forest Rights Act, saying that only the tribal affairs ministry can make changes to affect development in tribal areas. On the eve of the monsoon session of Parliament, the four-time MP from Sundargarh in Orissa tells Bula Devi that he is in favour of mining and big industrial groups setting up shop in tribal areas. He says he batted for the land acquisition bill. Excerpts from an interview:
Are you in favour of mining and big corporates setting up industrial projects in tribal areas?
I am not against big projects or mining. Shying away from mining to extract minerals and leaving rich minerals under the soil unutilised is not good for the country. However, there should be minimum displacement of tribals. But displacement-related issues are addressed in the Land Acquisition Bill, which is being looked into by a joint committee of Parliament.
How committed are you to giving tribals consent rights under the Land Acquisition Bill?
The bill has created a lot of doubts in the minds of the people and it is being interpreted by people according to those doubts. In the bill, whatever relaxation the government has given, it is for the benefit of tribals—whether it is for roads, railways, hospitals, educational institutions, irrigation canals, towers. These are all for the benefit of tribals. Displaced persons will get four times the compensation; displaced persons will mostly be from tribal areas. As far as consent rights go, it is there in the Land Acquisition Bill.
You talked about huge benefits reaching tribals if the bill comes into force, but benefits mostly remain on paper and hardly reach the people.
It all depends on the mindset of the respective MLA, MP, collector and so on. In some places, people have benefited due to mining and the setting up of industries. But there are places where mining has harmed tribals of the area. For instance, mining in districts like Mayurbhanj, Koraput and Sundargarh (all in Orissa) have not helped tribals. The Supreme Court and high court have served strictures on the government. The Justice M.B. Shah Commission also said that proper development did not take place.
You were against Posco?
I opposed Posco only on certain points, although I am not against big plants like Posco. But the kind of facilities that were to be provided to Posco were shocking—a swapping clause, the Khandara Falls, a free economic zone, free water, a separate port etc. It was on these issues that I protested. Besides, I am of the firm belief that foreign companies should not be given land on lease; iron ore should be given at market price and that is why now they have now created Posco India.
Have the differences between the tribal ministry and the environment ministry been sorted out?
The environment ministry needed some clarifications, which have been given. There were healthy discussions. Our jurisdictions are well-defined and there is no encroachment. Our ministry is concerned with the Forests Rights Act (FRA), the PESA (Panchayats Extension of Scheduled Areas) Act and its implementation, besides reservation for the tribes. We will come out with a national policy for Scheduled Tribes.
Are you satisfied with the development of tribals in the country?
There has been some uplift in the lives of tribals compared to how they lived in the 1960s—there have been improvements in literacy, health, communication. However, I am not fully satisfied. On a scale of 10, tribals stand at 5-6—say, only 50 per cent improvement.