Perspective paper on tribals introduction

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  • Tribals account for only 8.2%(84.3 million) of the total population, they make India the second largest concentration of tribal communities in the world (Census 2001).
  • Historically there are seven major tribes represented in India,
  • There are 533 tribes as per notified schedule under Article 342 of the constitution of India
  • The prominent tribal areas constitute about 15 % of the total geographical areas of the country and correspond largely to underdeveloped areas of the country.

The seven major tribes and their respective locations are:

  • Tribes
  • States
  • Gonds
  • Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharastara, Jahrkhand, Gujrat, Karnatka, Orissa, West Bengal
  • Bhils
  • Madhya Pradesh, Gujrat, Rajasthan
  • Santhals
  • Jahrkhand, Orissa, West Bengal, Tripura
  • Minas
  • Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Chatissgarh, Madhya Pradesh
  • Oraons
  • Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chatissgarh, Orissa, Maharastra, West Bengal
  • Mundas
  • Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chatissgarh Orissa, West Bengal, Tripura
  • Khonds
  • Jharkhand Madhya Pradesh, Chatissgarh Orissa, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Maharastra, West Bengal

Tribals And Their Constitutional Rights

  • The constitution has devoted more than 20 articles on the redressal and upliftment of the underprivileged
  • Recognising the special needs of STs, the Constitution of India made certain special safeguards to protect these communities from all the possible exploitation and thus ensure social justice.

Articles in the constitution

  • Article 14 confers equal rights and opportunities to all,
  • Article 15 prohibits discrimination against any citizen on the grounds of sex, religion, race, caste etc;
  • Article 15 (4) enjoins upon the State to make special provisions for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes;
  • Article 16 (4) empowers the State to make provisions for reservation in appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens, which in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State;
  • Article 46 enjoins upon the State to promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people and, in particular, the STs and promises to protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.
  • Further, while Article 275 (1) promises grant-in-aid for promoting the welfare of STs and for raising the level of administration of the Scheduled Areas,
  • Articles 330, 332 and 335 stipulate reservation of seats for STs in the Lok Sabha and in the State Legislative Assemblies and in services.
  • Finally, the Constitution also empowers the State to appoint a Commission to investigate the conditions of the socially and educationally backward classes (Article 340) and to specify those Tribes or Tribal Communities deemed to be as STs (Article 342).

The Fifth Schedule

  • The Constitution lays down certain prescriptions about the Scheduled Areas as well as the Scheduled Tribes in States other than Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram by ensuring submission of Annual Reports by the Governors to the President of India regarding the Administration of the Scheduled Areas and setting up of Tribal Advisory Councils to advise on matters pertaining to the welfare and advancement of the STs (Article 244(1)).

The Sixth Schedule

  • The Constitution also refers to the administration of Tribal Areas in the states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram by designating certain tribal areas as Autonomous Districts and Autonomous Regions and also by constituting District Councils and Regional Councils (Article 244(2)). To ensure effective participation of the tribals in the process of planning and decision-making, the 73rd and 74th Amendments of the Constitution are extended to the Scheduled Areas through the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996.

Tribals and the Five-Year Plans

  • The First Plan (1951-56) clearly laid down the principle stating that ‘the general development programmes should be so designed to cater adequately to the backward classes and special provisions should be used for securing additional and more intensified development for STs’. Unfortunately, the same could not take place.
  • The Second Plan (1956-61), which laid emphasis on economic development, gave a special focus on reducing economic inequalities in the society. Further, development programmes for STs have been planned for, based on respect and understanding of their culture and traditions and with an appreciation of their social, psychological and economic problems. In fact, the same was planned in tune with ‘Panchasheel’ – the philosophy of tribal development as enunciated by the first Prime Minister of the Country, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. An important landmark during the Second Plan was the opening of 43 Special Multi-purpose Tribal Blocks, later termed as Tribal Development Blocks (TDBs).
  • The Third Plan (1961-66) continued with the very same principle of advocating reduction in inequalities through various policies and programmes to provide equality of opportunity to STs.
  • The Fourth Plan (1969-74) proclaimed that the ‘basic goal was to realise a rapid increase in the standard of living of the people through measures which also promote ‘equality and social justice’. An important step in this direction was setting up of six pilot projects in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa in 1971-72 with a separate Tribal Development Agency for each project.
  • The Fifth Plan (1974-78) marked a shift in approach as reflected in the launching of the Tribal Sub-Plan (TSP) for the direct benefit of the development of tribals. The Tribal Sub-Plan has a two pronged strategy, namely i) promotion of development activities to raise the level of living standards of Scheduled Tribes and ii) protection of their interest through legal and administrative support. The TSP stipulated that funds of the centre and the states should be quantified on the population proportion basis with budgetary mechanisms to ensure accountability, non-divertability and utilisation for the welfare and development of STs.

The Sixth Plan (1980-85) sought to ensure a higher degree of devolution of funds so that at least 50 per cent of tribal families could be provided assistance to cross the poverty line.

  • The Sixth Plan (1980-85) sought to ensure a higher degree of devolution of funds so that at least 50 per cent of tribal families could be provided assistance to cross the poverty line.
  • In the Seventh Plan (1985-90), there was substantial increase in the flow of funds for the development of STs resulting in the expansion of infrastructural facilities and enlargement of coverage. Emphasis was laid on the educational development of STs. For the economic development of STs, two national-level institutions were set up viz. (i) Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation (TRIFED) in 1987 as an apex body for State Tribal Development Cooperative Corporations, and (ii) National Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Finance and Development Corporation (NSFDC) in 1989. The former was assigned to provide remunerative prices for the forest and agriculture produce of tribal, while the latter was intended to provide credit support for employment generation.
  • In the Eighth Plan (1992-97), efforts were intensified to bridge the gap between the levels of development of STs and the other sections of the society. The Plan not only emphasized elimination of exploitation, but also paid attention to the special problems of suppression of rights, land alienation, non-payment of minimum wages and restrictions on the right to collect minor forest produce etc. However, attention on priority basis, was continued to be paid on the socio-economic upliftment of STs.
  • The Ninth Plan (1997-2002) aimed to empower STs by creating an enabling environment conducive for them to exercise their rights freely, enjoy their privileges and lead a life of self-confidence and dignity, on par with the rest of society. This process essentially encompassed three vital components, viz. i) Social Empowerment; ii) Economic Empowerment; and iii) Social justice. To this effect, while ST-related line Ministries/Departments implemented general development policies and programmes, the nodal Ministry of Tribal Affairs implemented certain ST-specific innovative programmes.
  • The Tenth Plan approach to the tribal development focuses on tackling the unresolved issues and problems on a time bound basis, besides providing adequate space and opportunity for the tribals to empower themselves with the strength of their own potentials.

Tribals and the Forest rights

  • Many tribal habitations are in the hilly and forest areas and they are dependent for majority of their activities on forests.
  • Forests and tribals share a symbiotic relationship. Tribals continue to live in forest areas. Some of them survive only on the collection of minor forest produce.
  • The tribals are using forest from time immemorial as their source of livelihood but with the enactment of the Forest Conservation Act 1980, their rights to collect MFPs and other forest produce has been restricted considerably.
  • In view of this the National Forest Policy, 1988 stipulates that all agencies responsible for forest management should ensure that the tribal people are closely associated with the regeneration, plantation, development and harvesting of forests so as to provide them gainful employment.
  • Inspite of these special safeguards, tribals continued to struggle for their survival as they face formidable problems and displacement due to environmental restoration projects, lack of development in forest villages etc.

Tribals and displacement issues

  • Displacement or forced / voluntary eviction of the tribals from their land and their national habitats and subsequent rehabilitation has become a serious problem.
  • Displacement take place mainly on account of development projects, which include large irrigation dams, hydro-electric project, open cast and underground coal mines, super thermal power plants and mineral based industrial units.
  • In these project, tribals lose their land not only to the project authorities but even to non-tribal outsiders who converge into these areas and corner both land and the new economic opportunities.
  • Inadequate rehabilitation of the displaced tribals will further compound their woes as they will become assetless, unemployed and be trapped in debt bondage and may even become destitutes.
  • It is a known fact that displacement has led to far reaching negative social and economic consequences, not to mention the simmering disturbance and extremism in most of the tribal pockets.
  • Though the tribals constitute only 8.2 % of the population, 40 % of Indias tribals have been displaced due to developmental projects since 1947. Tribal’s rights to land, forest and water have been seriously eroded. Till 1990, some eight and half million tribals had been displaced on account of a mega development project or reservation of forest and national parks and protected sanctuaries. This number accounts to 55,16% of the total displaced population of the country.
  • Displacement of tribals from their land amounts to violation of fifth schedule of the constitution as it deprives them of the control and ownership of natural resources and land essential for the way of life


  • Education situation
  • Literacy rate among STs is only is less than half of the general population, and that of rural tribal women about one-fourth. High Drop out rate of nearly 80% in primary education.
  • Lack of infrastructure, commitment on the part of teachers, monitoring mechanism
  • There is a growing realization of the need for proper medium of instruction in tribal dialects.

Social situation

  • Social situation
  • Atrocities against Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes and untouchability continue unabated even today.
  • High number of cases are registered under the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 and the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989

Economic Situation

  • The tribals generally live in most inhospitable terrain and practise shifting cultivation on higher slopes and dry-land cultivation in plains and lower slopes where productivity and output are very low. Low-levels of agricultural yields due to non-adoption of improved agricultural methods, Lack of proper irrigation facilities, decline in soil fertility, and risks and uncertainties involving damages caused by the wild animals, pests, cyclones, droughts, etc. The growing tribal population and the declining agricultural productivity has become a serious threat to the subsistence base of the tribal communities, endangering their self-supporting food security system
  • There is severe lack of suitable self-employment opportunities to the educated youth and dropouts. Lack of knowledge in taking up alternative avenues of employment other than agriculture.
  • Non-availability of appropriate and suitable technology for processing cottage and small scale industries to supplement income
  • Supply of poor quality of seeds, pesticides and raw materials to tribal beneficiaries.
  • Vested interests, moneylenders, landlords, shopkeepers, contractors and government officials continue to exploit the tribals.
  • Poor marketing infrastructure reflecting in low-income levels to tribals
  • Coverage of ST families by National ST Finance and Development Corporation and State level Finance and Development Corporations has been grossly inadequate
  • Landlessness is increasing amongst the Scheduled Castes and the proportion of the Scheduled Caste agricultural labourers to the Scheduled Caste cultivators is increasing which indicates that the Scheduled Caste cultivators after losing their land holdings are becoming agricultural labourers. The results are not very different for Scheduled Tribes also.

Political Situation

  • There lack of political will to allocate adequate funds to the tribal areas, which is clear from the poor flow of funds for the primary infrastructure and social security needs of the tribals.
  • There is growth of tribal movements, protests and campaigns as a result of conflicting interest groups like tribals, industries, government and consumers lobbying for stakes over the resources in the tribal areas.
  • The Government of India has allocated significant amount of resources for tribal development, but the impact has been rather limited. The approach adopted has been more welfare-oriented, and there has been less emphasis on the issue of empowerment.

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