Bhopal: In a bid to bring over two lakh tribals to attend Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Tribal Pride Day event on November 15 in Bhopal to woo tribal voters under BJP's tribal outreach programme, the Madhya Pradesh government spent close to 15 crores ironically pulled out from the budget allocated for the welfare of tribals.
Over Rs 15 crores were used by collectors across the 52 districts of the state to make transportation, lodging and food arrangements to get the tribal population to attend the Prime Minister's address at the state's capital of Bhopal, admitted Tribal Affairs minister Meena Singh in the recently concluded winter session of the state Assembly.
The government, however, had brushed aside the claim when Congress tribal MLA Hiralal Alawa raised the issue of misusing tribal funds for BJP's tribal outreach programme days before the event. These funds were meant for the development and welfare of over Rs 1.53 crores (21.90%) of the tribal population of the state, he alleged.
Replying to the question filed by veteran Congress leader and sitting MLA from Bhopal North Arif Aqueel in the assembly seeking details of funds used for the Prime Minister Narendra Modi's November 15 event in Bhopal, Tribal Affairs Minister Meena Singh replied that Rs 14.86 crores were used to pull tribals from across the state for the event in two instalments. Over Rs 12.92 crores were released on November 9 to all the districts, and over 1.94 crores were additionally given to 11 districts over their demands for more funds.
Observing Tribal Pride Day and renaming India's first world-class railway station Habibganj after former gond tribe queen of Bhopal Rani Kamlapati were part of BJP's tribal outreach programme to woo 21% tribal voters of the state after losing tribal seats in 2018 Assembly elections. Cladding tribal attire, the Prime Minister addressed the gathering in Bhopal and later inaugurated the renamed railway station on November 15.
The BJP, which has been in power in Madhya Pradesh since 2003, excluding the 15-month-long rule of Congress in 2018-19, has launched a massive tribal outreach programme after losing tribal seats in closely contested Assembly elections not only in MP but in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Jharkhand as well. In the 2018 elections, of the 47 reserved ST seats, the BJP managed to win 16 seats instead of 31 seats it had won in the 2013 Assembly elections. Out of 230 assembly seats in MP, 47 are reserved for Scheduled Tribes, and in 2008, the saffron party won 29 seats.
To woo over 21% of tribal voters of Madhya Pradesh, the BJP-led union government has recently declared November 15 as Tribal Pride Day to celebrate the birth anniversary of tribal freedom fighter of Jharkhand Birsa Munda. It also set up museums for tribals, renamed railway stations and colleges after tribal icons of Madhya Pradesh.
Referring to the letters sent by Tribal Commissioner to all district collectors between November 9 to November 12, the Minister said that those funds were used for transportation, food, mask, sanitiser and night stay of over two lakh tribals who came to Bhopal in over 5000 buses to take part in Tribal Pride Day event.
The details of the fund expenses include over 9.7 crores spent on transportation, Rs 2.62 crores on night stays, Rs 2.35 crores on lunch, 97 lakh on breakfast, 50 lakh on sanitisers, masks and banners and others.
This happened when the Union Government slashed over Rs 937 crores tribal budget of Madhya Pradesh in the fiscal year 2020-21 compared to 2017-18. Besides, thousands of tribal students of the Indore division were left high and dry after the government failed to pay their scholarship owing to the fund crunch.
In addition to that, payments of skilled and unskilled workers under MGNREGA in tribal-dominated districts such as Sheopur, Khargone, Shahdol, Alirajpur, Mandla are pending.
According to the official website, Rs 377.4 lakh has been pending for the unskilled labourers and Rs 321.71 lakh pending for skilled labourers in these districts. The MGNREGA was launched to provide at least 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in a financial year to every rural household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work.
"When I raised the issue of misuse of tribal funds for PM Modi s rally, days before the tribal pride day event, the BJP leaders brushed aside the claim terming it misleading. Now, it's officialy proven," said Congress MLA from Manawar Hiralal Alawa and convenor of Jai Adiwasi Yuva Shakti (JAYS).
"The State government does not have funds for the payment of thousands of tribal labourers who worked under MGNREGA. Many of the tribal students were waiting for the payment of scholarships. But the government has crores for such rallies," alleged Alawa.