Indigenous community leaders yesterday demanded that the government allocate sector- and ministry-wise budget for their communities in the upcoming national budget for their wellbeing and development.
There should be specific allocation for indigenous people in all ministries and departments’ budgets, and indigenous people themselves should be involved, with policy in place, for their proper implementation, they said at a roundtable discussion.
Development organisations Kapaeeng Foundation and Manusher Jonno Foundation jointly arranged the roundtable on “Demand for specific and inclusive budget for indigenous people” at The Daily Star Centre in Dhaka.
They demanded formation of a separate ministry for indigenous people living in the plains.
There should be clear statement on indigenous people in the budget speech, count of appropriate number of indigenous population and budget allocation based on the number, they further demanded.
The country’s national poverty rate is 23.20 percent. However, poverty rate among indigenous people in the plains is 80 percent and it is 65 percent among indigenous people of Chattogram Hill Tracts area, according to the keynote paper presented at the roundtable.
Government data shows the number of indigenous people is 15.86 lakh. However, unofficial estimate says over 30 lakh indigenous people belonging to 54 different communities live in the country, said the paper.
On the other hand, budget for the CHT Affairs Ministry is Tk 1,309 crore in current fiscal year, while the “annual development allocation” for indigenous people of the plains is Tk 40 crore, it says.
Although the size of national budget has been increasing each year, the gap between the rich and the poor is widening, and situation of indigenous people remained underdeveloped, said Kapaeeng Foundation Executive Director Pallab Chakma.
Supporting their demands, MJF Executive Director Shaheen Anam said the country’s indigenous population was marginalised not only because of poverty, but also in terms of their languages, land, and cultural identity.
Saying that their entire identity has been marginalized, Shaheen Anam added that to materialise any demand, there should be waging of a movement.
Additional budget allocation is required to reduce discrimination faced by indigenous people, especially those living in the plains. A monitoring mechanism was required to ensure accountability of the budget expenditure, she said.
Addressing as chief guest, Workers Party President and lawmaker Rashed Khan Menon said indigenous people’s issues should have been addressed specifically.
“Although there is development, disparity prevails acutely [in the country],” Menon said on the country’s current development trend.
Their situation in the plains was worse than that of the hills, Menon said, adding indigenous people in plans faced land grabbing while many of their women were raped, which remain unreported.
Indigenous people need to build unity among themselves to overcome challenges, he said.
Economist Prof MM Akash, indigenous community leader Sanjeeb Drong, and Citizen’s Platform for SDGs Convener, Anisatul Fatema Yousuf spoke among others.