NEW DELHI: They may be daggers drawn these days on taxation matters and economic policy priorities, but that hasn’t prevented the government from seeking to join hands with India Inc against a larger, common threat.
The government has reached out to top corporates such as Tata, Reliance, Wipro and Infosys, seeking for the first time their formal partnership to help counter what the prime minister has called the biggest national security challenge facing India – the Naxal insurgency.
Less than a month after Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee in his Budget speech announced plans to set up the Bharat Livelihoods Foundation, his colleague, Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh has sent out formal letters inviting these groups and co-operative giant National Dairy Development Board to become the foundation’s founding partners.
For this year, the government has allocated Rs 200 crore to the foundation, which will work to improve livelihoods and the habitat of tribal communities in 170 districts, nearly half of them severely affected by Left Wing extremism. It plans to provide a total of Rs 500 crore to the foundation over three years.
“Our objective is to create a total corpus of Rs 1,000 crore to begin with,” Ramesh wrote in the invitation letters.
This would enable it (Bharat Livelihoods Foundation) to be a sustainable, strong and meaningful organisation in its efforts to scale up civil society interventions and transform the lives and livelihoods of the adivasis living in and around 170 districts,” Ramesh wrote in the letters.
His ministry will hold a meeting with civil society, state governments and potential partners on April 27 to take the proposal forward.
This is the first major initiative of the government to seriously engage with corporate India on this matter, and it is hoping to draw on the resources and the pragmatism of industry to come up with solutions to tackle the naxalite problem.
For the companies, the government hopes the projects undertaken by the Foundation will give greater depth to their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts.
Convergence with resources from government schemes will provide private investments with greater leverage and richer partnerships with credible civil society organisations.
Maoist or naxalite violence has become an endemic problem across the country, killing more people each year than separatist terror.
More than 500 people were killed in 1,476 attacks carried out by the Maoists in various states until November last year, according to home ministry data.
While large tracts of the hinterland remains under the control of naxals, several corporate groups have managed to do business in these places, some of them with the help of goodwill earned by their CSR efforts and sometimes by paying protection money.
The government is hoping that initiatives such as the Bharat Livelihood Foundation will take the fruits of India’s economic expansion to reach the country’s adivasi or tribal population, which has been mostly excluded from the benefits of growth and, as a result, are vulnerable to Maoist propaganda.
“Among those who have most acutely felt the sense of exclusion and alienation are the adivasis, who perform poorly on every indicator of well-being, whether it be poverty, health or education,” says a joint concept note on the foundation prepared by the rural development ministry and the Planning Commission.
“What is worse, given the specific demography of adivasi India, the pockets of adivasis’ concentration have witnessed an unprecedented upsurge in Maoist militancy in recent years.
This is especially true of what may be described as the Central Indian adivasi belt.” Officials say the experience of the past two decades shows that some of the best innovation in improving livelihoods in the tribal areas has come from the civil society and the foundation is an effort to support these grassroots initiatives to empower tribals.
“The challenge is to transform systems of administration and levels of awareness at the grassroots to ensure that these well meaning pieces of legislation (Right to information, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, and the proposed Food Security Act and Minerals Act) have the requisite impact on the ground,” said Rural Development Minister Ramesh.
The Bharat Livelihood Foundation’s efforts will be geared to reducing the gap between outlays and outcomes, ensuring better implementation of government programmes.