The election of Droupadi Murmu ji as the President of India is a historic moment for Indian democracy. Her remarkable journey from Odisha's extremely poor tribal background, that too from the most backward Santhali community, to the highest constitutional position is marked by her struggles, grit, and determination.
Her elevation as ‘First Citizen’ is a matter of great joy and contentment for the entire country, more so for the tribal community. The nation had to wait for 70 long years to see a tribal woman reaching the highest office of the land. It marks yet another victory for our democracy and our Constitution under the leadership of PM Narendra Modi.
Tribals constitute 9% of our population. Their struggles and sacrifices in our freedom struggle are invaluable and unforgettable. But the sad truth is that post-Independence most governments have not done enough for the development and empowerment of our tribal communities. Hardly any efforts were made to bring them to the national mainstream and they also remained devoid of adequate political representation.
It was only under the leadership of former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee that serious steps were taken to fulfill the aspirations of our tribal society. In 1999 Atal ji created a separate Ministry of Tribal Affairs for empowerment and development of our tribal society which was followed by the formation of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes through the 89th Constitutional Amendment in 2003. The transformation of our tribal communities started by Vajpayee has been taken forward by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with more vigour and resolve.
Guided by the principle of 'Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas, and Sabka Prayas', the Modi government has taken umpteen initiatives to fulfill the aspirations and hopes of the tribal population. In the past eight years, there has been a massive increase in budget allocation for projects linked to the welfare and progress of tribal communities. The budget for Tribal Sub-Plan has been increased four-fold in 2021-22, from Rs 21,000 crores in 2013-14 to Rs 86,000 crores.
Some of the special initiatives include piped for 1.28 crore tribal homes under the Jal Jeevan Mission, 38 lakh houses under the Pradhanmantri Awas Yojna, 1.45 crore toilets, and 82 lakh health cards under the Ayushman Bharat. Similarly, the budget of Eklavya Model Schools specially developed for tribal students has been increased from Rs 278 crore to Rs 1,418 crore, while fund allocation for scholarships for tribal students has also been hiked from Rs 978 crores to Rs 2,546 crore. As part of the entrepreneurship development initiative, 3,110 Van Dhan Vikas Kendras and 53,000 Van Dhan self-help groups have been established with an expenditure of Rs 327 crore.
Our tribal areas are most affected by mining activities, but the financial gains from these mining activities were never shared with the native tribal population. To address this lacuna, the Modi government created a District Mineral Fund so that 30% of earnings from the mining activities could be spent on the development of tribal areas. So far Rs 57,000 crore has been accumulated and is being used in various development works. Similarly, the number of Tribes India outlets, run by TRIFED which takes care of the marketing and sale of products made by our tribal communities, has increased from 29 to 116.
PM Modi has also brought rich tribal culture and heritage to the national limelight. Tribal arts, literature, traditional knowledge, and skills have been included in various curricula. As part of 'Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav', a nationwide series of programmes are being organized to highlight the contributions of our great tribal leaders in our freedom struggle.
The nation now celebrates the birth anniversary of Bhagwan Birsa Munda, which falls on November 15, as Janjatiya Gaurav Diwas. Modi government is also developing Tribal Freedom Fighter Museums across the country with a budgetary outlay of Rs 200 crores. In his speeches, PM Modi often refers to our great tribal leaders and highlights their contributions to inspiring today's generation. All this underlines how the Modi government is tirelessly working for the honour and empowerment of our tribal society.
From Kashmir to the Northeast, a large chunk of the tribal population dominates our rural landscape, particularly in Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Rajasthan, and Gujarat. Post-Independence the Congress party exploited them as its vote-bank and ignored most of the tribal-dominated belt including the Northeast. It was Narendra Modi who immediately after taking over as the Prime Minister began the transformation of our tribal areas in the right earnest.
To kickstart the growth and development of the tribal-dominated Northeast, he formulated the Act East Policy. In the past eight years, our North-eastern states have been successfully integrated into the national mainstream to become partners in India’s growth and progress.
For decades poverty and social insecurity have been the biggest challenge for our tribal communities. This fear and uncertainty were used by the Left extremist to spread their wings in our tribal belt. This resulted in total disruption of growth and development in some of these areas. Modi government's 'zero tolerance' policy towards left-wing extremism has led to its near complete elimination. Today violence and unrest in our tribal areas have been replaced by development and peace.
The socio-economic development and empowerment of our tribal society and their political representation have always been an integral part of the BJP's ideology. And, today under the leadership of PM Modi India has chosen Droupadi Murmu as its first tribal woman President. It is a shining example of PM Modi's resolute commitment to the empowerment of our tribal brothers and sisters.
(The writer is Union Home Minister. The views expressed here are that of the respective writer and do not represent the stand and views of ND24 editorial)