While the group of ministers has started deliberations on the pros and cons of the proposed national tribal policy, activists have raised questions about its utility. The policy aims at social, economic, linguistic and cultural development of tribals so that they will be at par with rest of the population by 2020.
The debate has been over the policy's proposal for market access to enhance agricultural production in tribal areas. It also admits 'very little' has been done to implement Panchayats Extension to the Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act, 1996, which reaffirms tribals' rights over natural resources. Many states have not passed mandatory PESA laws.
"States' reluctance to implement PESA has resulted in tribals losing control over ownerships," says Tapan Bhattacharya, founder, Adivasi Sewashram Trust, an ngo in Indore. "Poor land record system coupled with illiteracy, poverty and ignorance have resulted in transfer of resources from tribals to non-tribals," says the policy.
The Left has criticised the government for the delay in implementation of a law that guarantees rights to forest dwellers. cpi (m) general secretary Prakash Karat has sought the "urgent" intervention of prime minister Manmohan Singh in notifying the Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill 2006.
The bill was passed in both houses of parliament in December 2006 and a committee to draft rules was formed in March 2007. The draft rules were submitted in May 2007 and posted on a website for public comments on June 19. It was expected that the rules would be finalised by July 31 and the act subsequently notified. But nothing was done even after six weeks, the letter said.
Karat has also said that the delay has led to forest officials evicting tribals from many areas. "Land cultivated by tribals for decades is being dug up for plantations by forest departments...to pre-empt the recognition of the tribal rights on that land," the letter says.