The upcoming national budget should have a special allocation for the development and financial inclusion of pandemic affected ethnic minority communities, said speakers at a virtual discussion on Sunday.
"The budget should allocate funds for the development of ethnic groups by adding a 'separate allocation' and it should contain a description of ethnic groups – their identity, rights, culture and way of life," said Sanjeev Drong, general secretary of the Bangladesh Indigenous People's Forum (BIPF).
They are landless, migrant labourers, backward in education, deprived of water for both drinking and irrigation, he said in his keynote presentation at the discussion, "Specific and Inclusive Budgets for Ethnicities," organised by Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF).
He said there were small separate sections for ethnic people in budget speeches from 2010 to 2013 but, in the last few budgets, this was absent.
"The budget means not only money but also the state's thoughts, support, and attitude towards ethnically marginalised people," said Sanjeev.
The bulk of the prime minister's allocation on "development assistance for special areas" for ethnic people on plain lands, and aid from the Ministry of Fisheries and Animal Resources for livestock development with a view to improving the socio-economic status of ethnic minorities was so helpful, he added.
However, Sanjeev said the size of the assistance was small compared to the number of ethnic people.
"To bring ethnic people to the forefront of development, the national budget needs to have separate and adequate allocations in line with meeting the sustainable development goals," he added.
The leader of the non-Bangalee ethnic communities said the budget allocations are usually made ministry-wise, and added that as there is no ministry for ethnic people of the plains, there is no separate budget allocation for them.
However, over the last few years, the government, through the social welfare ministry, has undertaken activities to improve the living standards of other marginalised communities and has allocated a separate budget. But due to the lack of participation of ethnic representatives at the local level, there has been no meaningful improvement, he said.
Sanjeev said that despite an increase in the per capita income of people in the country, the poverty rate in areas inhabited by ethnic groups has risen to over 60%.
Addressing the programme as chief guest, Planning Minister Abdul Mannan assured that his ministry will try to include a separate allocation for ethnic minorities.
The government is committed to improving the living standards of every person and to ensuring equal opportunity for every citizen, he added.
MJF Executive Director Shaheen Anam called for a bigger budgetary allocation for the marginalised and distressed, given the ongoing crisis.