NEW DELHI: It is social engineering at its best. Adding more heat to the ever-boiling quota pot, the Narendra Modi government has decided to overhaul the criteria for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status. The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has asked the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MTA) to include ‘historical injustice’ and ‘deprivation’ as two main criteria. Till now, the ST status has been determined by the government on the basis of criteria fixed by the Lokur Committee in 1965, which are indication of primitive traits, distinctive culture, shyness of contact, geographical isolation and backwardness.
The idea to create a new set of criteria was initiated by Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, an RSS frontal body that works with tribals. “The government feels that these criteria are outdated and do not reflect social realities. Hence, the decision to modify,’’ an MTA official said.
Once the new criteria gets the Cabinet stamp, the ministry will ask the Anthropological Survey of India to develop an ethnographic chart in accordance to that. The ministry gets nearly 1,000 applications every month from various communities, requesting the government to include them in the ST category. “We usually forward them to the Registrar General of India, and most of them get rejected, creating disillusionment in the communities. Once the new criteria is in place, the ministry will have a greater say in deciding the ST status,” said the official.
As per Article 366 (25) of the Constitution, the list of SC and ST can be modified only by Parliament. Once the ministry finalises the new criteria, all pending applications will be scrutinised accordingly and will be sent for Parliament
According to the official, most states forward applications to the ministry, recommending communities to be included in the ST list, mostly due to political reasons. “In the last one month, we got recommendations from all the four states which are going to elections next month. For them, it is a campaign strategy, and they are not bothered about the veracity. Then they say the Centre rejected their proposal, making us look like the culprits,’’ said the official.
But not all are equally enthused. “The move is a political one. The government is trying to win over more communities by making them eligible for reservation,’’ said an official with the ST Commission.
The Scheduled Tribe status has always been an election issue with various communities, mostly OBCs, raising the matter whenever there is an election and the states complying them regardless whether the request is genuine or not. Once the elections are over, the matter is forgotten, only to be raised in the next elections.
As per the latest census, there are 748 tribal communities in the country. The largest number of communities listed as ST are in Odisha.