The government in its next budget must ensure a special economic incentive for indigenous people severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, demanded leaders of indigenous rights organisations yesterday at a webinar organised by Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF).

They also consider it essential to have a specific allocation for the indigenous community to make the development activities more inclusive.

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The leaders also demanded a separate paragraph in the national budget while allocating funds for the development of indigenous people.

Even if the budget speech is short, there should be a description of the ethnic people, their identity, rights, culture, lifestyle, development etc. at least in one paragraph, they demanded.

The points were made at the webinar titled “Specific and Inclusive Budget for Ethnic People”.

Bangladesh Adivasi Forum President Sanjeeb Drong presented the keynote paper at the event and he said that in the last budget, more than 40 lakh indigenous people of the country were neglected.

According to him, every year, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) makes some bulk allocation for them under “Development Assistance for Special Areas”, and for the last few years, the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock has made some allocations in the integrated livestock development sector, for improving the socio-economic status of the ethnic groups living in the plains.

“Although it is important to have such a distinct, specific and direct budget allocation, this allocation should be more in proportion to the number of the population,” he said.

“Besides, since there is no separate ministry for the indigenous people of plains, an advisory committee or board consisting of indigenous people from the plains can be formed to manage the bulk allocation from the PMO,” he said, adding that, “It will prevent corruption and waste of this fund.”

Adivasi Forum member Flora Bably Talang said the government must ensure proper disbursement of the special incentives at the local level and create an opportunity for Maulavibazar’s indigenous betel nut farmers for accessing soft agriculture loans.

Planning Minister M A Mannan joined the programme as chief guest.

He assured the leaders that the government is committed to the rights of indigenous people and he will raise his voice for the necessary allocation for them from the next budget.

The speakers also discussed the absence of proper data about the actual number of ethnic groups and the total population. They said this is the biggest challenge in determining the amount of allocation for them.

According to the 2011 census, the government has data on 27 ethnic groups and the total population was 16 lakh.

However, in March 2019, the Ministry of Culture published a gazette list of 50 ethnic groups, which indicated that more than half of the groups were left out of the 2011 census, and there are many misconceptions about population number, speakers said.

They also demanded ensuring the involvement of indigenous people and organisations in the SDG implementation process and creating a proper mechanism for that.

MJF executive director Shaheen Anam presided over the programme.

Member of Parliament Rashed Khan Menon; former member of National Human Rights Commission, Nirupama Dewan and Chakma Circle Chied, Raja Devashish spoke at the event among others.

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