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Change the name, make it Indian Forest and Tribal Services, ST panel to tell govt

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National Commission for Scheduled Tribes says name change will ensure forest officers also look into aspects of tribal welfare.

New Delhi: The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes has mooted the idea of rechristening the Indian Forest Services (IFS) as the ‘Indian Forest and Tribal Services’, arguing that the name change would ensure that officers would also look into tribal welfare when managing forests.

The decision was taken at a meeting that the Commission held Tuesday. The recommendation — a draft of which is with ThePrint — will be made to the government in the Commission’s annual report to be submitted next year.

“There is a lot of interdependence between tribals and forests, so if the name of forest officer changes, they will take up more responsibility for tribal welfare,” a member of the Commission told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity.

“We can only recommend it to the President, and then the government will have to take a call,” the member added.

Also read: Hard fact: Despite quotas, Dalits, tribals are nowhere in Delhi’s corridors of power

What draft recommendation says

The draft recommendation states that although there are constitutional provisions for the upliftment of Scheduled Tribes in the country, there is no dedicated service to ensure this.

“Presently, tribal development activities are being looked after by officers drawn from the State Civil Services, who work mostly under Tribal Development Department,” the draft recommendation states. “At the higher level of government, there is no dedicated service for the development of STs in the country.”

As a result, the Tribal Ministry has no say in the management of forests, while the Environment Ministry — which is the cadre-controlling ministry for IFS officers — is trying to conserve forests without taking tribals into account, the recommendation says.

“This has led to an approach where the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change is trying to conserve the forests with or without tribals whereas the Ministry of Tribal Affairs is aiming at the welfare of tribals without having much say on the management of forests as the primary resource of tribals,” the draft recommendation says.

In light of this disconnect, the Commission is going to recommend that “the Indian Forest Service should be rechristened as ‘Indian Forest and Tribal Service to achieve the twin objectives of conservation of forests and welfare of tribals in the national interest”.

“The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes feels that there should be unity of purpose and in order to achieve this, the first step will be creation of a set of officials both at the centre and state levels who are singularly responsible and accountable to the State Governments as well as Government of India for development of tribals as well as conservation of forests.”

Also read: When it comes to forests, India must fight fire with fire

The logistics

While the Commission is set to recommend the rechristening in its annual report, there is a lot of lobbying regarding renaming the civil services, and the change may not be very easy to bring about, said a forest officer who did not wish to be named.

The move, however, makes sense since the tribal department and ministry has no officers on the ground, and it is only forest officers, who mostly interact with tribals in remote forest areas, the officer added.

The officer also said that it is worth noting that the Commission has not asked for a separate service, and feels that tribal welfare can be looked after by forest officers.

The ST Commission member who ThePrint spoke to, said that the logistics would be taken care of if the government agrees with the recommendation in spirit.

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