- Traditionally, Scheduled Tribes enjoyed total autonomy over the governance of their affairs. This system of autonomy was dismantled during the British Raj in India. Tribal communities in India were viewed with derision by the British and various legislations were brought to alienate them from their ancestral rights and further criminalised upon demanding their rights.
- The Constitution makers adopted specific measures to protect the rights of STs.
- Article 46 of the Constitution provides that ‘the State shall promote with special care, the educational and economic interest of the weaker section of the people, and, in particular, the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation’.
- Similarly, Articles 15 and 16 empowered the Government for making special provisions for the Scheduled Tribes.
- In addition to the constitutional provisions, the Parliament has passed the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 to prevent the commission of offenses or atrocities against the members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and to provide relief and rehabilitation for the victims of atrocities.
- The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 recognises and vests forest rights and occupation on forest land to Scheduled Tribes.
- Rights under FRA
- Title rights – Ownership to land that is being farmed by tribals or forest dwellers subject to a maximum of 4 hectares; ownership is only for land that is actually being cultivated by the concerned family, meaning that no new lands are granted.
- Use rights – to minor forest produce (also including ownership), to grazing areas, to pastoralist routes, etc.
- Relief and development rights – to rehabilitation in case of illegal eviction or forced displacement; and basic amenities, subject to restrictions for forest protection.
- Forest management rights – to protect forests and wildlife.
National Commission for Scheduled Tribes
- It is important that the constitutional rights given to Scheduled Tribes are protected and special emphasis is given to them in the planning process. For this purpose, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) which is duty-bound to act as a watchdog and think tank for the STs.
- NCST is a constitutional body established under Article 338A of the Constitution of India. It has a constitutional duty to protect the rights of the tribal people and ensure the responsibilities of different institutions for their welfare.
- Its organisational structure comprises a Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson, and three Members, appointed by the President of India.
Roles & Responsibilities
- The issues of tribal communities in India are unique in nature, owing to their distinct cultural pattern and value systems across different regions. Considering this perspective, specific needs were identified and NCST had been given a special constitutional status in order to:
- investigate and monitor all matters relating to the safeguards provided for the Scheduled Tribes;
- inquire into specific complaints with respect to the deprivation of rights and safeguards of the Scheduled Tribes;
- 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;
- make such reports and recommendations as to the measures that should be taken by the Union or any State for the effective implementation of those safeguards and other measures for the protection, welfare and socio-economic development of the Scheduled Tribes;
- present to the President reports upon the working of those safeguards. The Union and every State Government shall consult the Commission on all major policy matters affecting Scheduled Tribes.
- While inquiring into any complaint referred to, the Commission has all the powers of a Civil Court trying a suit.
- NCST as a constitutional body, has played a key role in the advancement and in securing the rights of STs in India. It receives a number of representations from individuals, civil societies, and non-governmental organisations regarding injustice being meted out to persons belonging to STs.
- NCST has also launched an e-portal www.ncstgrams.gov.in for the public to register their complaints.
- Planning and effective implementation of appropriate schemes of development are imperative so that the tribal communities can realise their full potential.