Tribal welfare begins with a cut
New Delhi When the Vajpayee government set up the ministry of tribal affairs (MTA) two years ago and placed one of the RSS's first tribal pracharaks, Jual Oram, to head it, this was supposed to herald its commitment to the development of India's most marginalised people.
Among the ministry's many functions is funding the voluntary work of NGOs in tribal areas. The money is substantial: According to Oram, nearly Rs 40 crore is disbursed every year to different NGOs. But like the proverbial slip between the cup and the lip, NGOs cannot be sure of getting the funds even after their applications have been cleared by the ministry.
So arbitrary has been the ministry's functioning that NGOs and even bureaucrats have begun speaking out, alleging corruption. Ministry insiders say there have been innumerable cases when NGOs working in tribal areas, especially in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, have been approached by persons linked to the minister's office demanding a cut before their grants are sanctioned. In other cases, blacklisted NGOs have received money for unexplained reasons.
On September 21, the Organisation for the Protection of Democratic Rights (OPDR), an umbrella organisation of tribal NGOs in Orissa, wrote to Prime Minister Vajpayee and Ratilal Kalidas Varma, chairman of the parliamentary committee on SC/STs, alleging that M K Pradhan - who was then working in Oram's office - had in January written to the Servants of India Society (SIS) in Rayagada, Orissa, that its request for grants was in the minister's office and ``is going to be sanctioned if you did come and contact otherwise it may not be sanctioned and returned from our office (sic).''
Pradhan's letter, a copy of which is with The Times of India, quoted the MTA's file number concerning the SIS's request, as well as four phone numbers in Delhi where he could be contacted, two of which are of the minister's office. SIS office bearers say that on calling up that number, they were given a mobile phone number. When they called up that number, they allege. a demand was made for a cut from the grant to be sanctioned.
Despite repeated attempts, Pradhan could not be contacted. However, members of Oram's personal staff confirm that Pradhan worked in the minister's office till recently and was quite close to the minister.
OPDR's letter to the PM also alleges that the president of Koraput district BJP, ``is telling all NGOs that he has been authorised by the tribal minister to visit educational complexes for tribal girls and to send a report to Jual Oram, only then will grant-in-aid will be released.''
According to ministry sources, the parliamentary committee has already written to the ministry asking for details but Oram denies anything. Says he, ``I am aware of this letter. This might be the handiwork of some rival NGO.'' Without commenting on weather he knows Pradhan, Oram insists that ``the focus should be on the good work that the ministry is doing.''