The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes explains a scheduled tribe is one with Primitiveness, geographical isolation, shyness and social, educational & economic backwardness due to these reasons are the traits that distinguish Scheduled Tribe communities of our country from other communities. Like the definition for Scheduled Castes, which was carried over from British-era legislation, the definition for “Scheduled Tribes” has been retained from the 1931 Census.

Tribal people constitute 8.6% of the nation’s total population, over 104 million people according to the 2011 census. The forest occupiers a central position in tribal culture and economy. The tribal way of life is very much dictated by the forest right from birth to death. Despite protection given to the tribal population by the constitution of India, tribals still remain the most backward ethnic group in India. Globalization has various dimensions which sometimes affect tribal communities positively and sometimes negatively.

There are over 700 Scheduled Tribes in India according to The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes. While often clubbed under the same umbrella by the ill-informed, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are quite different. True, both groups have faced, and continue to face, severe oppression and marginalisation before and in Independent India, but where Scheduled Castes face social, educational, and economic isolation, Scheduled Tribes are classified as marginalised communities on the basis of geographical isolation.

Definition of Scheduled tribe

  • As per Census-1931, Schedule tribes are termed as “backward tribes” living in the “Excluded” and “Partially Excluded” areas. The Government of India Act of 1935 called for the first time for representatives of “backward tribes” in provincial assemblies.
  • The Constitution does not definethe criteria for recognition of Scheduled Tribes and hence the definition contained in 1931 Census was used in initial years after independence.
  • However, Article 366(25)of the Constitution only provides process to define Scheduled Tribes: “Scheduled Tribes means 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.
Few Related Committees
  • The Lokur Committee (1965) was set up to look into criteria for defining Schedule Tribes. The Committee recommended 5 criteria for identification, namely, primitive traits, distinct culture, geographical isolation, shyness of contact with the community at large,and backwardness.
  • Bhuria Commission (2002-2004) focused on a wide range of issues from the 5th Schedule to tribal land and forests, health and education, the working of Panchayats and the status of tribal women.
  • A High-Level Committee in 2013, under chairmanship of Prof. Virginius Xaxa was constituted to study the 5 critical issues related to tribal communities: (1) livelihood and employment, (2) education, (3) health, (4) involuntary displacement and migration, (5) and legal and constitutional matters.

Various problems of tribal communities in India

  • Resource exploitation:
    • The policy of liberalization and the new state perceptions of utilization of resources are diametrically opposed to the adivasi worldview of resource exploitation and this divide has only widened further with the intrusion of globalization’s market oriented philosophy of development.
    • The recent rapid technological advancement and unrivalled economic and political strength of world capitalism have created favourable conditions for the evasion and extraction of natural resources from the ecologically fragile territories of tribal people.
    • All available laws those relating to lands, forests, minor forest produce, water resources, etc. restrain people from using forests.
    • Primary resources such as fuel, fodder and minor forest produce which were available free to villagers are today either non-existent or have to be brought commercially.
    • For the Tribals, globalization is associated with rising prices, loss of job security and lack of health care.
  • Displacement:
    • Since the emergence of liberalization, privatization and globalization (LPG), the areas inhabited by tribal population have been subject to various protests due to involuntary displacement.
    • Thus, forced evictions of tribals make way for mammoth capital-intensive development projects have become a distressing routine and ever-increasing phenomenon.
  • Gaps in Rehabilitation:
    • There are gaps in the rehabilitation of the tribal community members displaced by development projects.
    • Only 21 lakh tribal community members have been rehabilitated so far of the estimated 85 lakh persons displaced due to development projects and natural calamities.
  • Varied Problems across communities :
    • Health : For instance, recently Seven adults of the KhariaSavar community died within a span of just two weeks. Their lifespan is approximately 26 years less than the average Indian’s life expectancy.
      • Nearly 10% in West Godavari District are affected by Sickle Cell Anaemia.
    • Alienation : The problems in Red Corridor areas (especially Jharkhand, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh) is governance deficit and unfinished land reforms that has deprived the well being of tribes.
    • There is widespread infighting amongst tribes of North-East for natural resources and also of territorial supremacy.
  • Vested interests:
    • In the name of upgradation of lifestyle of poor indigenous tribal people, the market forces have created wealth for their interests at the cost of livelihood and security of these tribes in the areas.
  • Unemployment:
    • There is a heavy concentration of industrial and mining activities in the central belt. Despite intense industrial activity in the central Indian tribal belt, the tribal employment in modern enterprises is negligible.
    • Apart from the provisions of Apprenticeship Act, there is no stipulation for private or joint sector enterprises to recruit certain percentage of dispossessed tribal workforce.
    • They are forced onto the ever-expanding low paid, insecure, transient and destitute labour market.
    • About 40 per cent of the tribals of central India supplement their income by participating in this distorted and over exploitative capitalist sector.
  • Affecting social life:
    • Many more are slowly crushed into oblivion in their homeland or in urban slums. Their economic and cultural survival is at stake.
    • The globalization behemoth has added new dimensions to the vulnerability of India’s downtrodden by exacerbating their social exclusion, and making large segments of tribal groups also vulnerable and excluded.
  • Leading to subnational movements:
    • Inadequate social and economic infrastructure in areas that have insufficient resources for participation in mainstream development also has been at the root of various “sub-national movements” such as the Jharkhand, Uttarakhand and Bodoland.
  • Tribal women:
    • Tribal forest economy is primarily a women’s economy, and it is women who are most directly affected by the corporate exploitation of their traditional lands.
    • In poverty stricken tribal areas large scale migration has revealed the increasing movement of young women towards urban centres in search of work.
    • Their living conditions are unhygienic, the salary is poor and tribal women are vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous agents.
    • There is a large number of anemic women amongst the tribes. There is a shortfall of 6,796 sub-centres, 1,267 primary health centres (PHCs) and 309 community health centres (CHCs) in the tribal areas at an all-India level as on March 31, 2015.
    • They have become the prime targets of sexual violation by managers, supervisors and even fellow male workers in the plantation industrial sectors.
  • Informal jobs:
    • Construction sites, such as mines and quarries, and industrial complexes spelt doom for the local adivasi communities with the influx of immigrant labourers.
  • Cultural Defacement:
    • Tribals are being forcefully integrated in to the society leading to them losing their unique cultural features and their habitat threatened.
  • Isolated Tribes such as Sentinelese as still hostile to outsiders. The government must enforce “eyes on hands off ” policy in these cases.
    • The Jarawa community is facing acute population decline due to entry of outsiders into the area(The Andaman Trunk Road, among other projects, has cut into the heart of the Jarawa reserve).
  • Denotified, semi-nomadic and nomadic tribes are yet to be included as Scheduled Tribes.
    • Their traditional occupations (snake charming, street acrobatics with animals) are now illegal and alternative livelihood options are not provided.
  • Certain tribes have been characterised as Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) (earlier known as Primitive Tribal Groups) on the basis of their greater ’vulnerability’ even among the tribal groups. There are 75 such tribes in India.

Constitutional Safeguards for STs

Educational & Cultural Safeguards

  • Article 15(4):-Special provisions for advancement of other backward classes(which includes STs);
  • Article 29:- Protection of Interests of Minorities (which cludes STs);
  • Article 46:– The State shall promote, with special care, the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and in particular, of the Scheduled Castes, and the Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation,
  • Article 350:-Right to conserve distinct Language, Script or Culture;
  • Article 350:- Instruction in Mother Tongue.

Social Safeguard

  • Article 23:- Prohibition of traffic in human beings and beggar and other similar form of forced labour;
  • Article 24:- Forbidding Child Labour.

Economic Safeguards

  • Article 244:-Clause(1) Provisions of Fifth Schedule shall apply to the administration & control of the Scheduled Areas and Scheduled Tribes in any State other than the states of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura which are covered under Sixth Schedule, under Clause (2) of this Article.
  • Article 275:-Grants in-Aid to specified States (STs&SAs) covered under Fifth and Sixth Schedules of the Constitution.

Political Safeguards

  • Article 164(1):- Provides for Tribal Affairs Ministers in Bihar, MP and Orissa;
  • Article 330:-Reservation of seats for STs in Lok Sabha;
  • Article 337- Reservation of seats for STs in State Legislatures;
  • Article 334:-10 years period for reservation (Amended several times to extend the period.);
  • Article 243:-Reservation of seats in Panchayats.
  • Article 371:-Special provisions in respect of NE States and Sikkim

Service Safeguards

  • (Under Art.16(4),16(4A),164(B) Art.335, and Art. 320(40
    • Article 338A directs the state to create a National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, to oversee the implementation of the provisions and safeguards of the rights of Scheduled Tribes in India.

The Fifth Schedule of the Constitution

  • It outlines the provisions for administration of Scheduled areas. It assures the establishment of Tribes Advisory Councils, with three-fourths representation from the tribes in the area, in states with Scheduled Tribes but without Scheduled Areas. The council’s duties include to advise on matters of welfare and advancement of the tribes.

The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution

  • Article 244 in Part X of the Constitution envisages a special system of administration for certain areas designated as ‘scheduled areas’ and ‘tribal areas’. The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, deals with the administration of the tribal areas in the four north-eastern states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram.

Legislative measures

Apart from Constitutional safeguards, Scheduled Tribes are also assured other protections under the law to safeguard their geographical interests, including protections for forest lands.

  • The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act,1989 and the Rules 1995 framed there under.
  • Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1976 (in respect of Scheduled Tribes);
  • The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act1986;
  • States Acts & Regulations concerning alienation & restoration of land belonging to STs;
  • Forest Conservation Act 1980;
  • Panchayatiraj (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1996;
  • Minimum Wages Act 1948.
  • The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015
  • The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006

Government Initiatives for ST

Pradhan Mantri Van Dhan Yojana (PMVDY) is a Market Linked Tribal Entrepreneurship Development Program for forming clusters of tribal SHGs and strengthening them into Tribal Producer Companies has been launched with participation from all the 27 States from the Country.

  • It seeks to improve tribal incomes through value addition of tribal products.
  • Increasing Income of Tribal Population : Minor Forest Produce (MFP) is a major source of livelihood for tribals living in forest areas.
    • The importance of MFPs for this section of the society can be gauged from the fact that around 100 million forest dwellers depend on MFPs for food, shelter, medicines and cash income.
    • It provides them critical subsistence during the lean seasons, particularly for primitive tribal groups such as hunter gatherers, and the landless.
    • Tribals derive 20-40% of their annual income from MFP on which they spend major portion of their time.
  • Women Empowerment: This activity has strong linkage to women’s financial empowerment as most of the MFPs are collected and used/sold by women.
  • Employment: MFP sector has the potential to create about 10 million workdays annually in the country.
  • Three stage value addition would be the corner stone for enhancing incomes of the tribals under the scheme.
    • The grass root level procurement is proposed to be undertaken through Self Help Groups associated with implementing agencies.
    • Convergence and Networking with other Govt. departments/scheme shall be undertaken to utilise the services of existing SHGs like Ajeevika, etc.
    • These SHGs shall be appropriately trained on sustainable harvesting/collection, primary processing & value addition and be formed into clusters so as to aggregate their stock in tradable quantity and linking them with facility of primary processing in a Van Dhan Vikas Kendra.
  • Capacity Building: Under Van Dhan, 10 Self Help Groups of 30 Tribal gatherers is constituted. The establishment of “Van Dhan Vikas Kendra” is for providing skill upgradation and capacity building training and setting up of primary processing and value addition facility.
    • Working under the leadership of Collector these groups can then market their products not only within the States but also outside the States. Training and technical support is provided by TRIFED.
    • It is proposed to develop 3,000 such centres in the country.
  • The Van Dhan Vikas Kendras will be important milestone in economic development of tribals involved in collection of MFPs by helping them in optimum utilization of natural resources and provide sustainable MFP-based livelihood in MFP-rich districts.

Way forward for ST

  • The High-Level Committee (Virginius Xaxa committee) has made numerous recommendations such as exclusive mining rights for tribals, greater freedom for tribals to make decisions on land acquisition and other common property resources and, strict implementation of the new land law, Forest Rights Act and strengthening of the PESA.
  • It has also proposed a complete overhaul of the legal constitutional regime by recommending that laws and policies enacted by the Parliament and state legislatures shouldn’t be applied automatically in the Fifth Schedule areas.
  • State government should be made to obtain permissions from owners and occupiers of land for major minerals, and consult with gram Sabha in 5th and 6th schedule areas for minor minerals.
  • It should be mandated that all clearances (forest and environment) under forest conservation act and wildlife protection act should be taken before a lease was given.
  • Tribal cooperatives should be made eligible for grant of license of minor minerals in 5th and 6th schedule areas.

Although, these recommendations are progressive, the lack of political will to implement them, especially in the wake of greater push for industrialization by the present government, may become a major stumbling block. The government should ensure the distorted and over-exploitative capitalist sector doesn’t end up in committing ethnocide by putting their economic and cultural survival at stake.


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