• The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) was established by amending Article 338 and inserting a new Article 338A in the Constitution through the Constitution (89th Amendment) Act, 2003.
  • By this amendment, the erstwhile National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes was replaced by two separate Commissions namely-
    • (i) the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) [Article 338], and
    • (ii) the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) [Article 338A] w.e.f. 19 February 2004.
  •  The Commission is an authority working for the economic development of Scheduled Tribes in India.
  • The Constitution of India does not define Scheduled Tribes as such. Various acts, such as the Protection of Civil Rights (PCR) Act, 1955, and the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) (POA) Act, 1989, revised in 2015, and its Rules, 2016, have gained legitimacy with the establishment of the National Commission of Scheduled Tribes (NCST).
  • National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) comes under the Ministry of Tribal Affairs.

Definition of Scheduled Tribes:

  • According to Article 366(25) of the Constitution, Scheduled Tribes are those communities that are scheduled in accordance with Article 342 of the Constitution.
  • Also, Article 342 of the Constitution says that: The Scheduled Tribes are the tribes or tribal communities or part of or groups within these tribes and tribal communities which have been declared as such by the President through a public notification.

Scheduled Tribes in India

  • According to the 2011 Census, the Scheduled Tribes account for 104 million representing 8.6% of the country’s population. These Scheduled Tribes are spread throughout the country largely in forest and hilly regions.
  • The essential characteristics of these communities are:-
    • Primitive Traits
    • Geographical isolation
    • Distinct culture
    • Shy of contact with the community at large
    • Economically backwards
  • As in the case of the SCs, the Plan objective of empowering the tribals is being achieved through a three-pronged strategy of social empowerment, economic empowerment, and social justice.

Composition of National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST)

  • The NCST consists of one chairperson, one vice-chairperson and three full-time members.
  • All the members of the Commission have a tenure of 3 years.
  • They are appointed by the President by warrant under his hand and seal.
  • The Chairman shall be appointed from amongst eminent social, political workers belonging to Scheduled Tribes who inspire confidence amongst the Scheduled tribes by their vary personality and record of selfless service.
  • The Vice-Chairman and all other Members out of whom at least two shall be appointed from amongst persons belonging to the Scheduled Tribes.
  • At least one other member shall be appointed from amongst women.

Status of the Members

  • Chairman- Rank of Cabinet minister;
  • Vice-Chairman- Minister of State and
  • Other member- Secretary to the Government of India unless otherwise specified.
Tenure of National Commission for Scheduled Tribes
  • The Chairman, the Vice-Chairman and the other Members shall hold office for 3 years from the date on which he/she assumes such office.
  • The members are not eligible for appointment for more than two terms.
Powers of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes
  • The Commission shall have the power to regulate its own procedure. For Investigation and Inquiry, the Commission is vested with powers of a civil court having authority to.
  • Summon and enforce the attendance of any person and examine on oath.
  • Receive evidence on affidavits.
  • Discovery and production of any documents.
  • Examine a person on oath.
  • Issue Commissions for examination of witnesses and documents.
  • Any matter which President, by rule, may determine.

Functions of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes

  • The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes has been laid down in Article 338A of the Constitution. Clause (5) states that it shall be the duty of the Commission:
  • to investigate and monitor all matters to the safeguards provided for the Scheduled Tribes under this Constitution or under any law for the time being in force or under any order of the Government and to evaluate the working of such safeguards.
  • to inquire into specific complaints with respect to the deprivation of rights and safeguards of the Scheduled Tribes.
  • to participate and advise on the planning process of socio-economic development of the Scheduled Tribes and to evaluate the progress of their development under the Union and any State.
  • to present to the President, annually and at such other times as the Commission may be deemed fit, reports upon the working of those safeguards.
  • to make in such reports recommendations as to the measures that should be taken by the Union or any States for the effective implementation of these safeguards and other measures for the protection, welfare and socio-economic development of the Scheduled Tribes.
  • to discharge such other functions in relation to the protection, welfare and development and advancement of the Scheduled Tribes as the President may subject to the Provisions of any law made by Parliament, by rule specified.
Duties for Other Backward Classes and Anglo-Indian Community

The Commission has been assigned the following additional functions in relation to the protection, welfare and development, and advancement of the Scheduled Tribes measures that need to be taken:

  • Over conferring ownership rights in respect of minor forest produce of STs living in forest areas.
  • To safeguard rights of tribal communities over minerals resources, water resources etc as laid down by law.
  • For the development of tribes to plug loopholes and to work more viable livelihood strategies.
  • To improve the efficacy of relief and rehabilitation measures for tribal groups displaced by developmental products.
  • To private alienation of tribal people from land and to effectively rehabilitate such people in whose case alienation has already taken place.
  • To elicit maximum corporation and involvement of tribal communities for protecting forests and undertaking social afforestation.
  • To ensure full implementation of the provision of the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996.
  • To reduce and ultimately eliminate the practice of shifting cultivation by Tribal led to their continuous disempowerment and degradation of land and the environment.
Reports to be laid before the Houses
  • The President shall cause all such reports to be laid before each House of Parliament along with a memorandum explaining the action taken or proposed to be taken on the recommendations relating to the Union and the reasons for the non-acceptance, if any, or any of such recommendations.
  • Where any such report, or any part thereof, relates to any matter with which any State Government is concerned, a copy of such report shall be forwarded to the Governor of the State who shall cause it to be laid before the State Legislature with a memorandum explaining the action taken or proposed to be taken on the recommendations relating to the State and the reasons for the non-acceptance, if any, or any of such recommendations.

XAXA Committee related to Scheduled Tribes

The Prime Minister’s Office constituted a High-Level Committee in 2013, under the chairmanship of Prof. Virginius Xaxa. It submitted its report in May 2014.

The objective of the Committee: To examine the socio-economic, educational, and health status of tribal communities and recommend appropriate interventional measures to improve the same.

The key recommendation of the Committee:

  • Rehabilitation of tribal people: The State Government should rehabilitate tribal people who have been displaced by conflict in Chhattisgarh and the north-east.
  • Establishment of Judicial Commission: For what are known as ‘Naxal infractions,’ a large number of tribals, both men and women, are imprisoned. To investigate cases brought against tribals and their sympathizers, a judicial commission should be established. Increased investment by state governments is needed to offer legal aid to tribal petitioners so that they may engage skilled lawyers to fight their petitions.
  • Establishment of High-Level Fact-finding Committee: To investigate the quality of R&R in all medium and major development projects undertaken in the last fifty years.
  • There should be effective implementation of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act.
  • Involvement of Women: Effective participation of women in FRA processes has to be increased.
  • Apathy and incapacity of the State to implement the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979, has led to the exploitation of tribal migrant families. In particular, tribal women and children suffer greatly. There is a growing demand for the enactment of a comprehensive Migrants Rights Legislation, which deserves serious consideration.
  • Incorporating local culture, folklore, and history into the curriculum might assist tribal youngsters to gain confidence and see the value of education in their life. Tribal life revolves around music and dance.
  • Tribal Health Plan: Tribal communities need a specially designed health plan such a ‘Tribal Health Plan’. This ‘Tribal Health Plan’ should become an essential feature of the National Health Mission and of the Tribal Sub Plan.
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