By : Aesha Datta
The article has been republished from The Hindu, February 5, 2017.
Image : The MSP scheme was introduced by the UPA government to ensure financial security for an estimated 10 crore forest dwellers, most of them tribals engaged in collecting forest produce such as wild honey.
Cut in funds that ensured minimum prices for minor forest produce
The Centre’s mantra of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ isincreasingly being proven to be hollow, as tribal welfare measures are getting hit repeatedly.
While the government had, in a notification issued in October 2016, cut some of the social security net made for forest dwellers, the Budget presented by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on February 1 has taken another swing at it.
While schemes for tribal welfare as a whole have not received much attention, the government has cut allocations for a scheme that ensured minimum prices for minor forest produce (MFP), such as lac, chironjee pods, tamarind, honey and karanj, to less than a third to just ₹100 crore from ₹317 crore in just three years.
The Centrally-sponsored scheme to ensure a minimum support price (MSP) for minor forest produces was introduced by the previous UPA government in 2013, as part of implementing the Forest Rights Act. Under the scheme, minimum support prices was fixed for 11 forest produces, which has now been extended to 24.
Budget documents show that while in 2014-15 the scheme was allocated ₹317 crore, the same has been consistently reduced over the past two years — to ₹307 crore in 2015-16 and ₹158 crore in 2016-17.
In 2017-18, this has been further pruned to ₹100 crore. Further, only an inexplicably low ₹3 crore is expected to be spent from this amount during the ongoing fiscal, the Budget documents show . In 2015-16, expenditure under the scheme stood at ₹117 crore.
The Narendra Modi-government had recently decreased the MSP for seven of the forest produces. The MSP scheme was introduced to ensure financial security for an estimated 10 crore forest dwellers, most of them tribals engaged in collecting these items.
However, not only has the government reduced prices and allocation for the scheme that provides a social security net, it has given states a free hand to completely stop the scheme with a clause that says: “State is also at liberty to suspend the process of procurement or not to do procurement of MFP at all.”
Forest dwellers collecting these goods were assured of the MSP from government if they are unable to get a good price from the market. However, the recent changes in MSP, along with changes in guidelines that would effectively deter state governments from implementing the scheme to the fullest, indicate government apathy.
“The revised guidelines issued by the government on October 31, 2016, have dealt a major blow at the very foundations of the programme and amounts to a partial rollback of the scheme. There has been a sharp reduction in the MSP. While it has allowed the States to enhance the new rates by up to 10 per cent, it has also put the condition that any losses incurred in the process would be solely borne by the state government,” said Manas Ranjan of Bhubhaneswar-based NGO Vasundhara. The October guidelines have also changed the cost-sharing ratio for training purposes to 50:50, where earlier 75 per cent of the cost was borne by the Centre; and it discourages creation of storage facilities.
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