Government must consult tribal council - The New Indian Express

Government must consult tribal council

Published: 28th August 2013 08:52 AM

Last Updated: 28th August 2013 10:17 AM

The decision of the UPA to carve out a separate Telangana State is inconsistent with the principles envisaged under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution. Division of the State without safeguarding interests of self-reliance and autonomy of Adivasis would further intensify the control of non-tribal settlers and infiltrators over the resource-rich tribal areas of Andhra Pradesh. The cultural identity of Adivasis is closely linked to the natural resources.

A crisis will follow as a result of external interventions from both the regions  of Telangaana  and  Seemandhra. The political decision sharpens tensions within the Scheduled Areas of Andhra Pradesh  which spreads over 9 districts including Srikakulam, Vijayanagaram, Visakhpatnam, East, West Godavari, Kammam, Warangal, Adilabad  and Mahaboobnagar. Tribals who are living in these areas constitute 7 percent of the total state population.

It may be mentioned here that the State-sponsored non-tribals’ migration to tribal areas - giving legitimacy to their residential colonies, shops, establishments, land occupations against the tribal protective land transfer laws -  has increased over a period of time. Tribal areas are witnessing  displacement of huge tribal population in the name of development projects for the so-called economic growth. These areas are going under the control of the police. On the other hand, the implementation of Constitutional safeguards, tribal protective land transfer laws, money lending regulations, debt relief regulations, Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act, Forest Rights Recognition Act 2006 etc  has been completely left to the State. The State administration under the political control of the dominant non-tribal sections and political parties has failed to deliver justice. 

Historically, a large number of areas predominantly inhabited by Adivasis were declared Excluded/Partially Excluded Areas during the British period. These areas came under the purview of the Scheduled Districts Act of 1874 and the Government of India (Excluded and Partially Excluded Areas) Order 1936. Following Independence, these areas as well as other areas with a significant concentration of Scheduled Tribes (or ‘Tribals’) were brought under the Fifth Schedule, including the Scheduled Areas in Andhra Pradesh, under Presidential Orders passed under Paragraph 6 of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution.

Article 244 provides that the administration and control of the Scheduled Areas shall be in accordance with the Fifth Schedule. The Fifth Schedule has often been described as “a Constitution within the Constitution” for the special governance of Scheduled Areas where the populations of Scheduled Tribes are concentrated.

An important feature of the Constitutional provisions under Fifth Schedule is that the legal and institutional frame for the tribal areas is expected to be so designed as to be in consonance with the people and the institutions in these areas. It was on this count that the legislative powers at the State level are vested with the Governor in respect of Scheduled areas.

The purpose of Scheduled Areas, as also recognized in several judgments of the Supreme Court , such as Samatha vs. State of Andhra Pradesh (1997)  is to preserve tribal autonomy, their culture and economic empowerment, and ensure social, economic and political justice and for preservation of peace and good governance in the Scheduled Areas. It is pertinent to note that the Fifth Schedule recognizes the central role of the Governor in the governance and administration of the Scheduled Areas, with the President of India holding the final responsibility of ensuring the integrity of the Scheduled Areas.

The reasons for making special provisions for the Scheduled Areas and Tribes are that their social and other customs and their way of living are different from the rest of the country and tribals being backward and not educated, they were taken advantage of and exploited by others. Therefore, it has been felt that they should not be governed by general laws of the land and certain safeguards have to be provided to protect them from exploitation hence several Acts and Regulations were passed from time to time.

The whole constitutional edifice of Fifth Schedule, on the contrary became non-functional because of super imposition of political power , non-tribal elite sections on one hand and on the other,  inarticulate political leadership of the Adivsasis. The tribal advisory council is an advisory body under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution. The UPA has taken an arbitrary decision without consulting the Tribal Advisory Council in the State. Therefore, consultation of the Tribal Advisory Council is necessary for taking steps to bifurcate Andhra Pradesh.

It may be pertinent to note that the Bhuria Committee constituted by Government of India in 1994 to suggest the appropriate framework for governance in the Scheduled Areas of the Country, recommended self-autonomy to adivasis, by adopting the broad frame-design of autonomous district councils contained in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.  Further, provisions of the landmark legislation ” Panchayats Extension to the Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act 1996 also directs the State Government to create  tribal autonomous councils empowering them for self-rule in the Scheduled Areas.  In this context, the need of the hour is to follow the doctrine of Jawaharlal Nehru who said that “the tribal people should be enabled to develop according to their own genius with no interference from outside”.

(The author, advocate and tribal rights activist, can be reached at ptrinadharao@sify.com)

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