Give tribals rights even outside Scheduled Areas: Minority Commission

This recommendation is part of the NCM annual report of 2016- 2017, that is likely to be placed before Parliament soon.
Jharkhand tribals protest for their rights
Jharkhand tribals protest for their rights

NEW DELHI: Tribals should be recognised as tribals even outside their states or Scheduled Areas, otherwise they will be deprived of their special rights, believes the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) and wants the Centre to amend laws in this regard.

This recommendation is part of the NCM annual report of 2016- 2017, that is likely to be placed before Parliament soon. “The laws in this regard need to change or else, tribals will be stuck in their scheduled areas only, and subsequently, will be deprived of their legitimate rights and benefits of global development. Tribal development will be very slow if this change is not made,” the report states.

According to NCM, the problem of non-recognition of tribals is rampant in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, which passed state laws that led to non-recognition of tribals and tribal institutions. Pressing for amendments in legislatures by both Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, NCM has said that litigations have also cropped up because of the issue. Around 573 communities recognised by the government as Scheduled Tribes are eligible for special benefits and to compete for reserved seats in the legislature, government, universities and schools. Tribal communities are scattered in many states.

The Fifth and Sixth Schedules under Article 244 of the Constitution in 1950 provided for selfgovernance in specified tribal majority areas. The Fifth Schedule covers tribal areas in nine states—Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Rajasthan. The Sixth Schedule gives tribal communities considerable autonomy when compared to the Fifth Schedule.

Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya and Mizoram are autonomous regions under the Sixth Schedule. Article 244 makes special provisions for the administration of Scheduled Areas in states other than Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram, even though such areas are situated within a state or Union Territory, presumably because of the backwardness of the people of these areas. Subject to legislation by Parliament, the power to declare an area as a Scheduled area is given to the President.

The problem is quite visible in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, because when the former was divided in 2000 to carve out the latter, some tribals working in the government sector in the state opted to stay put and not go to Chhattisgarh. “Now these tribals, including Christian tribals, are denied their rights as tribals. The Ministry of Tribal Affairs should request the state governments of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh to bring in appropriate legislations in their respective legislatures, to redress the anomalies,” says the NCM report.

The NCM has also cited an example of Assam where many tribals are “denied” their special rights. “The British, during their regime, had taken tribals of Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Odisha to Assam as labour in tea gardens. They have been denied their tribal rights in Assam all these years... Ministry of Tribal Affairs has to confer tribal status on them by amending the Constitution in both Houses of Parliament,” the report states. There have been many complaints that the Fifth Schedule has failed to fulfil expectations because of limited autonomy provisions and poor implementation. Hence the demand has been to move the Fifth Schedule Areas to the Sixth Schedule.

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