The Odisha government today announced a Rs 12 crore package for protection, conservation and development of places of worship of tribal people, who constitute 22 per cent of the state's population.
"To encourage and assist in their noble endeavour, the state government has decided to take up the protection, conservation and development of these sites in the next three years with an investment of Rs 12 crore," Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said after a meeting here.
"The project will start immediately and will be closely monitored by the Panchayati Raj department and district collectors," Patnaik said.
Stating that sacred groves were an integral part of tribal culture, Patnaik said, "Tribal people are very much attached to these sites and take up their protection, development and conservation through their own methods."
Patnaik said the forest department had identified about 2,000 such sites in districts with a majority located in Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar, Sundergarh and Koraput.
Rs 60,000 would be spent on development of each sacred grove during the 2014-15 fiscal.
The state government's move followed the recent 12 Gram Sabhas held at Koraput and Rayagada districts where the Dangaria Kanda tribes outrightly rejected the state government's move to start mining on the Niyamgiri hills for bauxite for Vedanta's refinery project at Lanjigarh.
The Gram Sabhas were held as per a direction of the Supreme Court which wanted to ascertain the views of tribal people living on the Nigeria Hills.
The tribal people claimed that mining would adversely affected the sacred groves of their presiding deity Niyam Raja on the Niyamgiri hills.
Congress MP from Nabarangpur Pradeep Majhi, meanwhile, alleged that the state government's decision to conserve and develop places of worship of the tribal people was part of BJD government's move to appease them.
Majhi said, "It is an effort by the Chief Minister to pacify tribal anger against the ruling party.