Report on India’s tribal population kept under wraps

Monday 29 December 2014

High-level committee report was submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office in May 2014, and includes radical recommendations

Photo by Rajkumar

Tribal communities have historically faced the brunt of the state's development agenda. It seems the attitude of the government towards the tribal communities has changed little over the years.

A report of the current status of tribal communities, submitted to the Prime Minister's Office in May 2014, has been kept under wraps with no action being taken on its findings. Submitted by a high-level committee headed by Virginius Xaxa, professor at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, the report, exclusively accessed by Down To Earth, focusses on the socio-economic, health and educational status of the country’s tribal communities.

Focus on empowering tribals

The committee recognises the rights of tribals to refuse land acquisition, empowerment of the gram sabha and tribal advisory council, and the first right of the tribes in the Scheduled Areas to mine for minerals, and has made several radical recommendations.

It gives a detailed overview of issues within its mandate and makes several strong recommendations to the state for appropriate intervention strategies. One of these is the question of land acquisition and displacement of tribals. The members suggest that it is essential to provide the tribal communities with the right to say “no”. They must be allowed to access and manage surrounding forests and other Common Property Resources (CPRs). There must also be transparency and a sense of democracy in the process of acquisition. The report urges the state to be vigilant during acquisitions so that it gives the consent in a free and fair manner and actively involves the gram sabha in the process. It also mandates that every displaced person be given an adequate and comprehensive compensation for land and livelihoods lost.

The report emphasises on the fact that in the past 60-odd years, tribal communities have lagged behind the rest of the population, whether in terms of economic development, social security or political access. Despite the high rate of growth that India has shown in the past two decades, the fruits of this growth are yet to reach this section of our society.

It also suggests that the acquisition of land by the government for transferring it to private enterprises for public-private partnerships (PPPs) must be done away with as this counts as a violation of the Constitutional provision that prohibits or restricts transfer of tribal lands to non-tribals within Scheduled Areas. Tribal people should further be given the right to mine minerals within their Scheduled Areas.

The high-level committee report is centred thematically around the six issues of livelihoods and employment status, education, health, land alienation, displacement and enforced migration, legal and constitutional issues, and delivery of public goods and services. “While I cannot comment on why the government has not taken any action on this report so far or preempt them to do so, I do hope that the findings are made public and that the recommendations are implemented as soon as possible," says Abhay Bang, one of the committee members.

State role criticised

Its criticism against the state machinery and corporate interests becomes right at the beginning, where the members state that "tribal communities face disregard for their values and culture, breach of protective legislation, social deprivation, and aggressive resource alienation. Hence, the solution to these issues should enable the tribals to protect their own interests."

The committee suggests there should be provision of “land for land”, in acquisition of tribal lands. Compensatory land provided must be made cultivable with irrigation and agricultural inputs. Rehabilitation should be treated as a continuous process to be monitored by the Project Authority and State until the alternative livelihood becomes economically viable."

Ignored recommendations
 
On legal and administrative framework

 

  1. Laws and policies enacted by Parliament to be made applicable in the 5th and 6th Schedule areas only through discretion of the governor, who must be advised by the Tribes Advisory Council on applicability or non-applicability of said policy.
  2. Restructure the Tribes Advisory Council (TAC). One half of the council should constitute of elected state legislature members while the other half must be chairpersons of the district panchayat bodies. The TAC must be empowered and the scope of their ambit must be widened to include constitutional provisions, laws, policies, and administrative matters pertaining to Scheduled Tribes.
  3. The areas where tribes are sizeable in number in villages should be brought under scheduled areas, especially in states like West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Goa.
  4. Autonomous Councils must be covered under State Finance Commission, and not left at the arbitrary mercy of the State government for funding.
  5. Traditional political institutions must be formally recognised by the State, and tribal women should have one-third reservation in all ADCs and other political institutions.



On livelihoods and employment status

  1. Establish agro-based training institutions and labour-intensive processing industries in tribal regions. Tribal farmers should be motivated to undertake organic farming and eco-forestry. Priority be given to water management and micro watershed development programmes.
  2. Prevent tribal land alienation and restore alienated land to owners as per the provisions of PESA (Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas Act) and confirmatory Acts by various States. National and State level monitoring agencies be set up to prevent alienation of tribal land.
  3. Ensure participation of tribals in protection and management of forests. The newly acquired land under FRA (Forest Rights Act, 2006) should be utilised for forestry rather than food grain cultivation.
  4. Extend credit and marketing facilities to the tribals. The credit policy must be on par with other social groups.


On land alienation, displacement and enforced migration

  1. State must try to minimise displacement, and follow a rights based approach to rehabilitate them. Displacement should be democratic and rights of tribal communities to refuse the acquisition of their land should be recognised.
  2. Empower gram sabhas to prevent land alienation (through the Samantha judgement and PESA Act) and form Registered Scheduled Tribe Co-operative Societies to take up mining activities in Scheduled Areas.
  3. Make legal provisions to return unutilised tribal land for its acquired purpose or to use it to resettle displaced tribals.
  4. Rehabilitation be treated as a continuous process to be monitored until the alternative livelihood becomes economically viable. Tribals should be given a stake in assets and economic activities being created on their acquired land.
  5. Rectification to include Common Property Resources such as government land and panchayat land under the Forest Rights Act. Community land should not be recorded as government land in land surveys.
  6. Empower gram sabhas plenary powers to fight cases of tribal land alienation collectively. The gram sabha should also be legally empowered to restore alienated land on detection, pending legal justice.


On legal and constitutional issues

  1. Implement community forest rights and recognise various community forest rights and rights of vulnerable communities such as particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTGs) and pastoralist communities.
  2. Remove contradictory processes like diversion of forest land that hampers implementation of the protective provisions under the FRA.
  3. Form a Judicial Commission to investigate cases filed against tribals and their supporters to allay concerns about misuse of criminal law by the state.
  4. Ensure that PESA is internalised into administrative practice. Government officials including forest departments continue to deny access to tribals to that which is their right.


High-level committee report on social-economic status of tribal communities

The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013

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