New Delhi: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair” these lines written by Charles Dickens in 'The Tale of Two Cities' often comes to my mind when I think of those long trails of migrant labourers trying to do everything possible to get back to their homes. Some on bicycles, some on trucks-vans and some barefoot! While we sit and think of the haunting images that we will never be able to set ourselves free from, still there are some people acting as the guiding lights in the darkness. There are common men, ordinary people, leaders and officers who are planning, executing and doing everything possible to reduce the despair and pain of these marginalised people.
Tribals and tribal labourers have similar stories of extreme poverty, lack of livelihood, exploitation by middlemen and ignorance by the system overall. But here is a man who came forward with a vision for tribal India and as time went by, the change started appearing.
The passion for Tribals
Pravir Krishna, an IAS officer of 1987 batch (Madhya Pradesh cadre), one of the handful bureaucrats to have made it to the list of '50 Most Influential Indian 2020', is the trailblazer here we are talking about. Krishna is currently working as Managing Director, Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India (TRIFED). The upliftment of the tribal community as a mission is close to Krishna's heart. Having worked in the tribal areas of Chhattisgarh (then part of undivided Madhya Pradesh) and MP for the bigger part of his career gives him a natural understanding of the issues related to tribal livelihood. It got him a stronghold over the various stakeholders of the value chain of forest products' business. This was key in creating a level playing field for all, and in some cases, in favour of the tribals too.
Transforming TRIFED to an engine of Tribal Entrepreneurship
Here are some facts that add details to the story. The turnaround of TRIFED was achieved with the procurement of tribal handicrafts rising by 400 percent, the sale of tribal products by 410% in 2019-20 over 2016-17. It resulted in providing livelihoods to over 25 lac tribal households. There was a 300% increase in the retail infrastructure adding on the e-Commerce mode which helped improve sales. Krishna also worked towards creating innovative and new lines of livelihoods.
VanDhan Tribal Start-up
The VanDhan scheme was launched on August 15, 2019. The idea behind VanDhan was to promote Tribal Startup’s in tribal clusters of the country and it proved to be a landmark development. Under the scheme, the adoption of modern technology platforms led to rallying tribal artisans and building up of brand TRIFED & TRIBES India as a facilitator of tribal interests. Over 1200 such start-ups involving over 3.5 lac tribal gatherers have been initiated in tribal areas of 22 states of the country with states like Manipur, Nagaland, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Maharastra leading the way. The scheme ultimately aims to put almost 50 lac Tribals on the road to an enterprise.
Pravir Krishna (IAS)
"The scheme of MSP for MFP & Development of Value chain (named VanDhan or Wealth of Forests) to be scaled up in 307 tribal areas of 27 States of the Country will be a game-changer for Tribal livelihoods," said Krishna while speaking to us. "With emphasis on value addition, packaging, branding and retail marketing, the scheme aims to be the 'Amul” for promoting tribal enterprise through a fair deal in the trade of NTFP, of which they are the rightful owners", he added.
Now the same VanDhan is being explored to provide relief to the tribal labourers who have gone back to their villages because of COVID-19 pandemic. “Loss of livelihood for the labourers is a major issue right now. So we have framed a strategy to provide employment to them. Due to the outbreak, there are very limited options for them at home. This is why we have to ensure that they have a means of livelihood. Organising them in small groups and pushing their products in the market would be our aim,” said Krishna in a recently published interview.