Context: Globalization and industrialization have uprooted villages, disrupted ancient cultures and forced Tribals to give up their traditional occupations. 

Tribal population in India

  • The tribal population in India, although a small minority, represents an enormous diversity of groups. 
  • They vary in language and linguistic traits, ecological settings in which they live, physical features, size of the population, the extent of acculturation, dominant modes of making a livelihood, level of development and social stratification.
  • They are also spread over the length and breadth of the country though their geographical distribution is far from uniform. 
  • The Kaka Kalelkar Commission of 1953 was the first to suggest the recognition of STs as an exclusive group of no certain religion. 
  • A majority of the Scheduled Tribe population is concentrated in the eastern, central and western belt covering the nine States of Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal. 
  • About 12 percent inhabit the North-eastern region, about five percent in the Southern region and about three percent in the Northern States.

Constitutional provisions for tribals

  • The Constitution does not define the criteria for recognition of Scheduled Tribes.
  • Article 366 (25) defined scheduled tribes as "such tribes or tribal communities or parts of or groups within such tribes or tribal communities as are deemed under Article 342 to be Scheduled Tribes for the purposes of this constitution".
    • Article 342(1): The President may with respect to any State or Union Territory, and where it is a State, after consultation with the Governor, by a public notification, specify the tribes or tribal communities or part of or groups within tribes or tribal communities as Scheduled Tribe in relation to that State or Union Territory.
  • Article 46 of the Constitution provides that the State shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the society and in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.
  • Reservation in educational institutions has been provided in Article 15(4) while reservation in posts and services has been provided in Article 16(4), 16(4A) and 16(4B) of the Constitution.
  • Part 10 of the Indian Constitution entails the provisions related to Scheduled and Tribal Areas with Articles 244 – 244 A. The President is empowered to declare an area as Scheduled Area.
  • Tribal Areas
  • Areas where Schedule Tribes are numerically dominant, two distinct administrative arrangements have been provided for them in the Constitution in the form of the Fifth and Sixth Schedules.
  • The Fifth Schedule of the Constitution deals with the administration and control of Scheduled Areas as well as of Scheduled Tribes residing in any State other than the States of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram.
    • It provides for establishment of a Tribes Advisory Council (TAC) in any State having Scheduled Areas.
    • The States with Fifth Schedule Areas are Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan and Telangana.
  • The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution provides for the administration of tribal areas in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram to safeguard the rights of the tribal population in these states.
  • This special provision is provided under Article 244(2) and Article 275(1) of the Constitution.
  • The Sixth Schedule provides for autonomy in the administration of these areas through Autonomous District Councils (ADCs).
  • Panchayats (Extension of Scheduled Areas) Act of 1995, or PESA, confers upon village gram sabhas the powers of development and dispute resolution (as per traditional customs), as also the ownership and management of natural resources under local Tribal communities.
  • PESA is a Central legislation that extends the Provisions of the Panchayats, as given in Part IX of the Constitution to the Fifth Schedule Areas with certain modifications and exemptions. These areas have a preponderance of tribal population. 
  • Article 164(1) provides that in the States of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha there shall be a Minister in charge of tribal welfare who may in addition be in charge of the welfare of the Scheduled Castes and backward classes or any other work.
  • Articles 330 & 332 of the Constitution reserve seats for STs in Scheduled areas, thus granting them representation to safeguard their rights and interests. This applies both at the national and grassroots level. 
  • The 89th Amendment introduced the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes that derives its power from Article 338A, which is handled by panellists from Tribal communities. 
  • Article 371A has special provisions with respect to the State of Nagaland.
  • Article 371B has special provisions with respect to the State of Assam.
  • Article 371C has special provisions with respect to the State of Manipur.
  • Article 371F has special provisions with respect to Sikkim.

The marginalization of Tribals 

  • It can be traced back to the British Raj, when the state had a free hand in controlling estates and forest resources. 
  • In Independent India mass tribal land acquisitions were done in the name of ‘developmental projects’. Many tribes have become migrant wage workers in unorganized-sector units.
  • India has not ratified the International Labour Organization’s 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples, which recognizes Tribal rights over land and natural resources. 
  • Urbanisation: Unbridled interaction between tribes and the general population has resulted in indigenous cultures being suppressed. 
  • Yet, a largely protective approach of isolation amounts to the promotion of primitivism and denying tribals the fruits of development.
  • Left-Wing Extremism (LWE): Among the 83 LWE-affected districts, 42 districts have Scheduled Areas. There is exploitation and oppression by traders and money lenders, on the one hand, and absence of an effective and sensitive civil administration.

Various commissions’ recommendations

  • The Scheduled Tribes Commission (1961) endorsed Tribal Panchsheel and made recommendations within the framework of Panchsheel like rights over land, forest, rehabilitation, etc.
  • The Elwin panel of 1959, United Nations Debar Commission of 1960, Lokur Committee of 1965 and Shilu Ao panel of 1966 focused largely on tribal development, governance mechanisms and welfare systems. 
  • The Bhuria Committee Report of 1991 paved the way for PESA’s enactment, which, with its objective of democratic decentralization, further fortified Tribal interests. 
  • The Bandhopadhyay and Mungekar Committee was constituted to examine governance issues in Scheduled areas affected by extremism. 
  • In 2014, the Xaxa Committee was constituted to look extensively into Tribal livelihood, employment, health, migration and legal matters. 
    • The five critical issues: (1) livelihood and employment, (2) education, (3) health, (4) involuntary displacement and migration, (5) and legal and constitutional matters have been studied by the Xaxa Committee.
    • The Committee recommended five criteria for identification, namely, primitive traits, distinct culture, geographical isolation, shyness of contact with the community at large, and backwardness.
    • It noted that PESA and the Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006, even though significant initiatives, are slow to absorb evolving circumstances.
      • The Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006 recognizes the rights of the forest dwelling tribal communities and other traditional forest dwellers to forest resources, on which these communities were dependent for a variety of needs, including livelihood, habitation and other socio-cultural needs.
    • Subjects such as land acquisition, food security, detention and imprisonment, the status of Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) and De-notified Tribes, have also been highlighted.

‘Panchsheel’ for Tribal development

Jawaharlal Nehru had advocated ‘Panchsheel’ for Tribal development to address issues of Tribal justice. Following are five principles for the tribal policy:

  1. People should develop along the lines of their own genius, and the imposition of alien values should be avoided.
  2. Tribal rights in land and forest should be respected.
  3. Teams of tribals should be trained in the work of administration and development.
  4. Tribal areas should not be over administered or overwhelmed with a multiplicity of schemes.
  5. Results should be judged not by statistics or the amount of money spent, but by the human character that is evolved.

Significance of Tribal Panchsheel: It requires that progress criteria for Tribals be based on life-quality indices, with an aim to strike a balance between isolationism and their assimilation. This is based on a dual approach of integration and development.

Supreme Court judgments

  • The Supreme Court in Samatha vs State of Andhra Pradesh (1997) held that the granting of a mining lease in a Scheduled area by a state amounts to a transfer of land to a ‘non-Tribal’ in violation of the Fifth Schedule. 
  • The court in Orissa Mining Corporation vs. The Ministry of Environment and Forests held that forest dwellers and STs have a right under the FRA to be consulted before their ancient homelands are converted to commercial lands. 

Government initiatives

  • The renewed Stand Up India scheme, 2021, launched by Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI), seeks to provide STs loans ranging from ₹10 lakh to ₹1 crore to set up enterprises.
  • The Union Budget for 2021-22 reduced the margin-money requirement for loans from 25% to 15% and allowed credit for agriculture-allied activities. 
  • A recent proposal to build 750 Eklavya Model Residential Schools in Tribal-majority areas to inculcate heritage-based education, while also imparting vocational-skill training, is another manifestation of a dual-approach policy.

The issues that several Committees have dealt with fall broadly into two categories: development and protection. The potential of a pragmatic action plan in consonance with Panchsheel is yet to be fulfilled. The crevice between policy and performance seems to widen over time, while inclusion without intrusion remains a challenge to be addressed.

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