What are Scheduled Tribes (ST)

In India, the tribes have been designated as “Scheduled Tribes” under the Constitution. There is a procedure for including tribal groups in the Scheduled list. Communities are notified as Scheduled Tribes under Article 342 of the Constitution based on the characteristics such as:

  • primitive traits,
  • geographically isolated,
  • a distinct culture, and
  • shyness of contact with the community at large, and
  • economically backward.

The benefit of labeling as ST: The community becomes entitled to some constitutional protections and developmental programs designed to end their marginalization and help assimilate into mainstream society.

What are Scheduled Caste: Hindu “low-caste” communities which have historically faced discrimination and exclusion at the hands of “upper-caste” people.

Tribal Population and Distribution: India is among few nations in the world with a sizeable tribal population in different parts of the country. There are 573 different tribal communities spread all over India. As per official data, only 258 tribal communities speaking about 106 different languages are notified as “Scheduled Tribes”. About 80 percent of tribal populations are to be found along the Central India belt and the rest 20 percent are in the NorthEastern States, Southern States, and Island groups. The numerically strong Scheduled tribe groups include Santhals, Gonds, Bhil, and Oraon. Smaller tribal groups are to be found in A&N Islands (Andamanese, Onges) and Kerala‐Tamil Nadu (Paniyans and Kattunaickens). 75 tribal groups have been categorized as Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTG) (Earlier known as Primitive Tribal Groups (PTG)) for special development assistance.

According to 2001 Census, the population of Scheduled Tribes in the country was 8.4 crore, constituting about 8.2 percent of the total population. The sex ratio of the Scheduled Tribe population was 978 females per thousand males; better than the national average and those of the Scheduled Castes.

Constitution and the Tribals

In India, most of the tribes are collectively identified under Article 342 (1&2) as Scheduled Tribes and right to self-determination guaranteed by Part X: The Scheduled and Tribal Areas – Article 244: Administration of Scheduled Areas and Tribal Areas.

  1. The provisions of the Fifth Schedule shall apply to the administration and control of the Scheduled Areas and Scheduled Tribes in any State (other than the states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Mizoram).
  2. The provisions of the Sixth Schedule shall apply to the administration of the tribal areas in the State of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Mizoram.

The Indian Constitution is supposed to protect tribal interests, especially tribal autonomy and their rights over land, through Fifth and Sixth Schedules. Scheduled Areas of Article 244(1) are notified as per the Fifth Schedule and Tribal Areas of Article 244(2) are notified as per the Sixth Schedule.

The sixth Schedule contains provisions as to the administration of tribal areas in the states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Mizoram. This law gives enormous freedoms to the autonomous regions and districts in terms of legislative and executive power. The law notes that each autonomous region shall have its own autonomous Regional Council and every autonomous district its own autonomous District Council.

Indira Gandhi introduced what is called as Tribal Sub-Plan in the planning process, earmarking a portion of funds for tribal development. Only to ensure their share of the Central Plan allocations, the States started the notification of tribal areas again. However, the money seldom reached the tribals.

When Rajiv Gandhi’s successors passed 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution to enact Panchayat and Nagarpalika Bills, they simply forgot that these do not automatically become applicable to Tribal and Scheduled Areas.

Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (or PESA), 1996

Why this act was enacted: Village level democracy became a real prospect for India in in 1992 with the 73rd amendment to the Constitution, which mandated that resources, responsibility and decision making be passed on from central government to the lowest unit of the governance, the Gram Sabha or the Village Assembly. A three tier structure of local self-government was envisaged under this amendment.

Since the laws do not automatically cover the scheduled areas, the PESA Act was in acted on 24 December 1996 to enable Tribal Self Rule in these areas.

Salient features of the Act:

  1. Legislation on Panchayats shall be in conformity with the customary law, social and religious practices and traditional management practices of community resources.
  2. Habitation or a group of habitations or a hamlet or a group of hamlets comprising a community and managing its affairs in accordance with traditions and customs; and shall have a separate Gram Sabha.
  3. Every Gram Sabha to safeguard and preserve the traditions and customs of people, their cultural identity, community resources and the customary mode of dispute resolution.
  4. The Gram Sabhas have roles and responsibilities in approving all development works in the village, identify beneficiaries, issue certificates of utilization of funds; powers to control institutions and functionaries in all social sectors and local plans.
  5. Gram Sabhas or Panchayats at appropriate level shall also have powers to manage minor water bodies; power of mandatory consultation in matters of land acquisition; resettlement and rehabilitation and prospecting licenses/mining leases for minor minerals; power to prevent alienation of land and restore alienated land; regulate and restrict sale/consumption of liquor; manage village markets, control money lending to STs; and ownership of minor forest produce.

The full-fledged implementation of PESA will give Rs 50,000 crore to tribal communities to develop themselves. Nothing would deal a bigger blow to the Maoists than participative development by, for and of the tribal communities. Of the 76 districts highly infected by the Maoists, 32 are PESA districts. Hence, honest implementation of the PESA Act would empower the marginalized tribals so that they can take care of their developmental needs. This would deprive the Naxals of their ground support coming from the misguided and helpless tribals.

Why then is the PESA Act largely ignored by the State governments?

The main hurdle in the proper implementation of PESA comes from the nexus of bureaucrats and politicians who would lose authority in tribal areas. They have always subordinated the welfare of poor tribals in favor of the rich or the powerful. Giving real autonomy to Gram Sabhas, as envisioned in the Act, would leave them without much influence.

Forest department officials have long viewed the resource rich tribal regions as the source of revenue. They often collude with timber mafias for petty gains. They fail to realize that forests are the only source of sustenance for tribals. In the vast tribal areas of Andhra, MP, and Orissa, the tribals are primarily dependent on the collection and selling of the non-timber forest produce (NTFP). In Uttarakhand, there have been reports of forest depots selling bamboos to companies at highly subsidized rates.

Previously, the Orissa Forest Development Corporation and the Tribal Development Corporation had exclusive rights for a number of NTFPs. But under liberalization wave since 1990, individual companies (for example, Utkal Forest Products) have been given collection rights for 29 NTFPs for 10 years. Various paper industries have been engaged, under the guise of ‘labour contractors’, for working bamboo areas. They have cornered bamboo collection rights in several forest divisions.

Economic liberalization has brought the corporate giants into the region hunting for minerals for their mega size industrial exploits. The industry is wrecking havoc with the living conditions of the tribals under the liberalization regime. Their acts force the helpless tribals to leave the land they have known to be their own since ages. Compensation and rehabilitation plans are hardly ever implemented with honesty and dignity.

This is a big source of poverty and displacement as commonly seen in states like Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. These attempts to rob the tribals of their resources are criminal, especially when it occurs in places like Kalahandi and Koraput districts where starvation deaths among tribals are legendary.

How to force state governments to implement the PESA Act?

(a) Looking at the performance of State governments in the implementation of PESA and their tendency to by-pass it, the Central government should issue a notification that all other laws will be subordinate to PESA in the fifth schedule (or PESA) areas.

(b) Land litigations are another headache of tribals who have been rendered landless by the rich or powerful. In order to restore speedy justice, follow the recommendation of the B.D Sharma Committee. It suggested issuing notification of a date, when all pending cases in any Court of Law in which the land of a tribal is alleged to have been illegally transferred or occupied by any person or body, shall stand transferred to the Gram Sabha in whose jurisdiction the land is situated.

Only PESA has the real potential to deal a fatal blow to the left-wing extremists thriving on their backwardness, ignorance, and isolation. The “Original Indian People” of India deserve a life free of exploitation, poverty, and fear.

Scheduled Areas

In the Article 244(1) of the Constitution, expression Scheduled Areas means such areas as the President may by order declare to be Scheduled Areas.

The President may at any time by order (a) direct that the whole or any specified part of a Scheduled Area shall   cease to be a Scheduled Area or a part of such an area; (b) increase the area of any Scheduled Area in a State after consultation with the Governor of that State; (c) alter, but only by way of rectification of boundaries, any Scheduled Area; (d) on any alteration of the boundaries of a State on the admission into the Union or the  establishment of a new State, declare any territory not previously included in any State  to be, or to form part of, a Scheduled Area; (e) rescind, in relation to any State of States, any order or orders made under these provisions and in consultation with the Governor of the State concerned, make fresh orders redefining the areas which are to be Scheduled Areas.

Criteria for Declaring Schedule Areas

The criteria followed for declaring an area as Scheduled Area are (a) preponderance of tribal population; (b) compactness and reasonable size of the area; (c) under-developed nature of the area; and (d) marked disparity in economic standard of the people. These criteria are not spelled out in the Constitution of India but have become well established. They embody principles followed in declaring `Excluded and `Partially-Excluded Areas under the Government of India Act 1935, Schedule `B of recommendations of the Excluded and Partially Excluded Areas Sub Committee of Constituent Assembly and the Scheduled Areas and Scheduled Tribes Commission 1961.

Fifth Schedule Areas

States having Fifth Schedule Areas: At present, 10 States namely Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, and Telangana have Fifth Schedule Areas.

Special Provisions for Fifth Schedule Areas:

  • The Governor of each State having Scheduled Areas (SA) shall annually, or whenever so required by the President, make a report to the President regarding the administration of Scheduled Areas in that State.
  • The Union Government shall have executive powers to give directions to the States as to the administration of the Scheduled Areas.
  • Part 4 of the Fifth Schedule provides for the establishment of a Tribes Advisory Council (TAC) in any State having Scheduled Areas. If the President so directs, there will be established a TAC in a State having Scheduled tribes but not Scheduled Areas therein, consisting of not more than twenty members of whom, three-fourths shall be the representatives of the Scheduled Tribes in the Legislative Assembly of the State.  If the number of representatives of the STs in the Legislative Assembly of the State is less than the number of seats in the TAC to be filled by such representatives, the remaining seats shall be filled by other members of those Tribes. 
  • The TAC shall advise on such matters pertaining to the welfare and the advancement of the STs in the State as may be referred to them by the Governor.
  • The Governor may make rules prescribing or regulating (a) the number of members of the Council, the mode of their appointment and the appointment of the Chairman of the Council and of the officers and servants thereof, (b) the conduct of its meetings and its procedure in general; and (c) all other incidental matters.
  • The Governor may, by public notification, direct that any particular Act of Parliament or of the Legislature of the State shall or shall not apply to an SA or any part thereof in the State, subject to such exceptions and modifications, as specified. The Governor may make regulations for the peace and good government of any area in the State which is for the time being an SA.  Such regulations may (a) prohibit or restrict the transfer of land by or among members of the Scheduled Tribes in such area; (b) regulate the allotment of land to members of the STs in such area; (c) regulate the carrying on of business as money-lender by persons who lend money to members of the STs in such area.
  • In making such regulations, the Governor may repeal or amend any Act of Parliament or of Legislature of the State or any existing law after obtaining the assent of the President.
  • No regulations shall be made unless the Governor, in case a TAC exists, consults such TAC.

Unlike the Sixth Schedule areas, there are no institutional autonomous bodies in the Fifth Schedule areas. However, the PESA Act of 1996 has empowered the local village level Panchayats, particularly the Gram Sabhas in the Fifth Schedule tribal areas to act as local bodies of self-governance. But they lack the protective umbrella of a district level body (like the District Council of the Sixth Schedule areas); as a result, their decisions are routinely ignored or overruled by the state officials.

Definition of Village and Gram Sabha

Under the PESA Act, {section 4 (b)}, a village shall ordinarily consist of a habitation or a group of habitations or a hamlet or a group of hamlets comprising a community and managing its affairs in accordance with traditions and customs.

Under the PESA Act, {section 4 (c)}, every village shall have a Gram Sabha consisting of persons whose names are included in the electoral rolls for the Panchayat at the village level.

PESA exclusively empowers Gram Sabha to

  • safeguard and preserve the
    • traditions and customs of the people, and their cultural identity,
    • community resources, and
    • customary mode of dispute resolution.
  • carry out executive functions to
    • approve plans, programs, and projects for social and economic development;
    • identify persons as beneficiaries under the poverty alleviation and other programs;
    • issue a certificate of utilization of funds by the Panchayat for the plans; programs and projects.

PESA empowers Gram Sabha/ Panchayat at the appropriate level with

  • the right to mandatory consultation in land acquisition, resettlement and rehabilitation of displaced persons.
  • panchayat at an appropriate level is entrusted with planning and management of minor water bodies.
  • mandatory recommendations by Gram Sabha or Panchayat at appropriate level for prospective licenses/lease for mines and concession for the exploitation of minor minerals.
  • regulate sale/consumption of intoxicants.
  • ownership of minor forest produce.
  • prevent land alienation and restore alienated land.
  • manage village markets
  • control over money lending to STs.
  • control over institutions and functionaries in social sector, local plans including Tribal sub plans and resources.

Importance of PESA 

Effective implementation of PESA will not only bring development but will also deepen democracy in Fifth Schedule Areas. There are many benefits of PESA.

It will enhance people’s participation in decision making. PESA will reduce alienation in tribal areas as they will have better control over the utilisation of public resources. PESA will reduce poverty and out-migration among tribal population as they will have control and management of natural resources will improve their livelihoods and incomes. PESA will minimise exploitation of tribal population as they will be able to control and manage money lending, consumption and sale of liquor and also village markets. Effective implementation of PESA will check illegal land alienation and also restore unlawfully alienated tribal land. And most importantly PESA will promote cultural heritage through preservation of traditions, customs and cultural identity of tribal population.

Sixth Schedule Areas

The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution among other things provides for the administration of tribal areas through District/Regional Councils in the States of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura in exercise of powers given under the Constitution, the Governors of the Sixth Scheduled Areas may hold consultations with State Governments and Councils to emphasise need for having the democratic and decentralized governance at the village level.  

Some of the provisions that could be considered may include:

  • creation of elected Village Councils where they do not exist; 
  • making Village Councils answerable to Gram Sabha; 
  • recognize Gram Sabha under the law and specify their powers and functions; 
  • mandatory and regular election for the Village Council through the State Election Commission;
  • vesting of more powers to Village Councils and Gram Sabha.

These measures will help in strengthening the democratic process and the empowerment of women which would consequently result in improved health services, education and nutrition programmes.  This would also increase transparency in the process of planning, implementation and monitoring the developmental programmes.

Benefits of Sixth Schedule of Constitution Over Fifth Schedule

  • Sixth Schedule provides tribal communities considerable autonomy
  • Role of government and states are restricted with greater powers devolved on a local scale.
  • District and Regional Council under Schedule VI have the power to make laws on numerous legislative subjects.
  • They also receive grants in aid from Consolidated Fund of India to meet the financing of schemes for: Development, Healthcare, Education and
  • Regulatory powers of state control are mandated under Schedule VI for ensuring: Devolution, Deconcentration and
  • This spurs: Protection of customers, Effective economic development and Ethnic Security
  • Some of the landmark provisions which can be considered include: 
  • Creation of elected village councils in areas where they do not function.
  • Ensuring Village Councils are accountable to Gram Sabha.
  • Recognition of Gram Sabha under law and specification of powers and functions.
  • Regular Village Council elections conducted by the State Election Commission.
  • Empowerment of Village Councils and Gram Sabhas.
  • Measures help to:
  • Strengthen the democratic process
  • Empower women leaders
  • Improve health services
  • Encourage education and nutrition programmes
  • Bring transparency in planning, implementation and monitoring of developmental programmes


Sixth Schedule Areas

Many changes have taken place since 1952 and the roles and functioning of these Councils have been studies and evaluated.

Women and youth representation is the major issue. Since the tribal traditions do not normally recognize role of women in social politics, the autonomous councils as well as local bodies in the Sixth Schedule areas are male dominated; women representatives are seen as exceptions rather than rule.

Most autonomous councils have neither nurtured the village level bodies nor institutionalized intermediary bodies covering groups of villages, but instead ended up keeping all power to them only. This concentration of power in the councils ultimately ends up in few officer bearers. This has negated the democratic voice to the ordinary poor tribals and the idea of grass-root democracy got distorted as dictatorship of few top council members. This has obviously made corruption and inefficiency widespread in the councils. Hence, the Sixth Schedule areas failed to move towards participatory or inclusive democracy.

The developmental role of the Autonomous District Councils has remained badly constraints due to financial dependency on the state governments. Besides, state government departments have been functioning independently and taking up developmental activities. This has led to significant confusion, corruption and lack of accountability; thus, hurting the development of these areas.

Thus, the Sixth Schedule setup did protect land and local traditions of the tribes but could not institutionalize grass-root or participatory democracy and coupled with financial dependency and corruption the developmental activities have been badly hampered. Therefore, now there are talks of adopting the PRI system in some modified form in certain autonomous regions.

Fifth Schedule Areas

Lack of political will power to properly implement PESA provisions by almost all state governments has rendered it to the status of a paper-tiger. An inherent hurdle in the effective implementation of the PESA Act is the way it is handled at the Central level. Its implementation is vested in two different ministries of the Union Government – the Ministry of Panchayati Raj and the Ministry of Tribal Affairs – which virtually function in isolation.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle comes from the forest department officials who have historically derived power from the Indian Forest Act of 1927, which puts them in the twin roles of police and landlords. Thus, they are at pains to see the ownership of minor forest produce go into the hands of “encroachers”, as they have always seen the tribal community living “unauthorized” on the forest lands “owned” by the State.

Besides the PESA Act, forest czars are also pained by the Forest Rights Act of 2006 that expects them to hand back forest lands to the “encroaching tribal community” that were taken from them even in the distant past. It clearly is an assault on their traditional “landlord ship.”

PESA provisions have failed to provide any sense of security and relief to the tribal community living on the lands that abound in minerals and other precious raw materials eyed by the corporate sector. The provisions of the outdated colonial Land Acquisition Act of 1894 are invoked to take away tribals’ individual and community lands by state officials only to be handed over to private companies for mega projects ruining completely the traditional living style and culture of the tribal communities.

A former Chief Minister explained the mindful neglect of PESA: “Its implementation would put an end to mining projects.” Therefore, tribal communities will have to bear the brunt of this blatant mining/industrialization process because its immense profitability skews the political and administrative agenda in favor of industry, and away from protective laws like PESA. Thus there is great financial incentive to ignore the PESA law, the Samata judgment, and ensure that they do not get in the way.

Role of the Governor 

Under the powers conferred by the Fifth Schedule, the Governors can not only direct that any particular law or part thereof may not apply to a Scheduled Area that can also make regulation for good governance and peace in these areas.  The Governors can intervene in areas relating to-Prohibition or Restriction of the transfer of land by or among Scheduled Tribe members; regulation of allotment of land in such areas; and the regulation of money-lending activities.  The Governor has basically been given the legislative power to make regulations for the “peace and good government of any area which is a scheduled area.” The peace and good government are words of very wide importance and give wide discretion to the Governor to make laws for such purpose.

Gram Sabha and Forest Right Act (FRA)

The Gram Sabha is a congregation of the entire body of a village and cultivating this basic unit will give an opportunity to all citizens including those who have not been elected to any post to participate in the process of development and governance. It should be our earnest endeavor to ensure that the people who have been neglected for several years are made to feel that they are also a part of our democratic process.

Forest Rights Act for Scheduled Tribes and other  Traditional Forest Dwellers is a land mark legislation which gave a new hope to millions of tribals who have been living in forests for generations.  For the first time ever, this Act seeks to recognize and regularize the pre-existing rights of tribals living in the Scheduled Areas.  The Governors of the Fifth Scheduled States may ensure the speedy implementation of the Forest Rights Act through their respective State Governments as this would reduce a lot of tension arising out of land related issues in these areas.  Under the provisions of para-3 of the Fifth Schedule wherein the Governors of Scheduled Areas States are expected to make an assessment of the administration of the Scheduled Areas and send an annual report to the President of India.  The said reports should also deal with the observations made by the Tribal Advisory Council of the State and indicate steps taken with respect to the recommendation of the TAC.  As per the records available with the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, the Governor’s Report of the administration of the Scheduled Areas for the year 2009-10 is yet to come from some States.   It is urged that the Governors to send this annual report in a timely manner as this would help the Ministry to evaluate the progress that has taken place in the Scheduled Areas of the States. 

The Red Corridor

Naxals, the left-wing extremists, have carved out a large area along the eastern coast of India, spreading from Nepal border to Tamil Nadu. Though started 40 years ago, the movement ceased to die out and instead had grown ominously. This region largely includes dense forests and tribal areas and consists of 92,000 sq km. Red Corridor is the label people have given to this area, which the government machinery never dared to reach. Naxals are the uninvited and self-declared rulers in the Red Corridor.

In 2009, the Indian government launched Operation Green Hunt to root out the Naxals. In reality, however, the tribals find themselves sandwiched between the Maoists on one side who can’t give up their armed struggle and the government on the other, that cannot put the interests of a vulnerable minority — the adivasis — ahead of those with more money and political power.

Realizing that the lack of development and the absence of governance are primarily responsible for growth of the left-wing extremists, the government has drawn development plans to win over the tribal people.

Besides the plan of para-military force, the government has come up with plans for development of the territory included in the Red Corridor. Just recently, the central government has planned to spend Rs. 100 cr on every of the 33 (or 34) Maoist affected districts. This is an additional expenditure apart from the usual security related expenditure. According to reports, this additional money of Rs. 3400cr will be spent on roads, electricity and drinking water.

PESA – A Potent Weapon Against Naxals (Maoists) In India!!

The Power of PESA

PESA, short for Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, is the most important law meant for the Adivasis (natives ofIndia) that can radically change the socio-political landscape ofIndia, only if it is implemented honestly. It can achieve three things simultaneously: (1) deprive the Naxal of the fertile ground of backwardness and poverty in the “Red Corridor” and make them baseless; (2) assimilate the 8 percent tribal Adivasis into the mainstream political current through self governance; and (3) preserve forests and local ecology because they only know their land and its resources the best. But unfortunately, state governments lack willpower, honesty, and far-sightedness to grasp the profound impact its proper implementation will have for the future development.

In last six decades, India has achieved significant milestones in the areas of economic growth, cultural assimilation and global political interests. However, the 8% tribal population of the country has been left to protect themselves against the guile of rich and powerful eyeing the natural resources and minerals of their indigenous land. Only geographical distance and remoteness of their habitat offered them some protection. But their isolation has also exposed them to the ruthless might of Naxal cadres, supposedly struggling to throw out the rulers of the country through the barrel of gun. None, except Mao would be happy in his grave to find faithful followers in a remote land that he never visited.

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