National Commission for Scheduled Tribes is Dysfunctional

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    • The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes has been dysfunctional for the last four years and has not delivered a single report to Parliament, a parliamentary committee has said in a recent report.

    National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST)

    • Introduction:
      • The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) was established by amending Article 338 and inserting a new Article 338A in the Constitution through the Constitution (89th Amendment) Act, 2003.
      • By this amendment, the erstwhile National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes was replaced by two separate Commissions namely:
        • The National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC)
        • The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST)
    • Composition:
      • The term of office of Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson and each member is three years from the date of assumption of charge.
      • The Chairperson has been given the rank of Union Cabinet Minister and the Vice-Chairperson that of a Minister of State and other Members have the ranks of a Secretary to the Government of India.
      • They are appointed by the President by warrant under his hand and seal.
      • At least one member should be a woman.
      • The Chairperson, the Vice-Chairperson and the other Members hold office for a term of 3 years.
      • The members are not eligible for appointments for more than two terms.
    •  Duties and Functions of the NCST:
      • To investigate & monitor matters relating to Safeguards provided for STs under the Constitution or under other laws or under Govt. Order, to evaluate the working of such Safeguards.
      • To inquire into specific complaints relating to Rights & Safeguards of STs;
      • To participate and advise in the Planning Process relating to Socio-economic development of STs, and to evaluate the progress of their development under the Union and any State;
      • To submit the report to the President annually and  at such other times as the Commission may  deem  fit, upon/ working of Safeguards, Measures required for effective implementation of Programmers/ Schemes relating to Welfare and Socio-economic development of STs;
      • To discharge such other functions in relation to STs as the President may, subject to the provisions of any law made by Parliament, by rule specify;
      • The Commission would also discharge the following other functions in relation to the protection, welfare and development & advancement of the Scheduled Tribes, namely:
        • Measures that need to be taken over conferring ownership rights in respect of minor forest produce to the Scheduled Tribes living in forest areas.
        • Measures to be taken to safeguard rights to the Tribal Communities over mineral resources, water resources etc. as per law.
        • Measures to be taken to ensure full implementation of the Provisions of Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (40 of 1996).
        • Measures to be taken to reduce and ultimately eliminate the practice of shifting cultivation by Tribals that lead to their continuous disempowerment and degradation of land and the environment.
    • Powers
      • The Commission is vested with all the powers of a civil court while investigating any matter on the inquiry into any complaint relating to deprivation of rights and safeguards for Scheduled Tribes.

    Issues with the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes

    • Lack of applicants: The Ministry claimed that the recruitment in the Commission was constrained because of lack of applicants as the eligibility bar was set too high and the rules being tweaked to enable many more candidates to apply.
    • Pending Reports: In the financial year 2021-22, it has met only four times. Its rate of pendency of resolution of complaints and cases that it receives is also close to 50%.

    Who are Scheduled Tribes (ST)?

    • Article 366 of the Constitution: Such tribes or tribal communities or parts of or groups within such tribes or tribal communities as are deemed under article 342 to be Scheduled Tribes for the purposes of this Constitution.
    • Article 342: The President may with respect to any State or Union territory, and where it is a State, after consultation with the Governor thereof, by public notification, specify the tribes or tribal communities or parts of or groups within tribes or tribal communities which shall for the purposes of this Constitution be deemed to be Scheduled Tribes in relation to that State or Union territory, as the case may be.
    • Criteria: The Constitution is silent about the criteria for the specification of a community as a Scheduled Tribe. Primitiveness, geographical isolation, shyness and social, educational & economic backwardness are the traits that distinguish Scheduled Tribe communities from other communities.
    • There are certain Scheduled Tribes, 75 in number known as Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs), who are characterized by:- a) pre-agriculture level of technology; b) stagnant or declining population; c) extremely low literacy, and d) subsistence level of the economy.

    Constitutional Safeguards for STs

    • Educational & Cultural Safeguards:
      • Art. 15(4): Special provisions for the advancement of other backward classes    (which includes STs);
      • Art. 29: Protection of Interests of Minorities (which includes STs);
      • Art. 46: The State shall promote, with special care, the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and in particular, of the Scheduled Castes, and the Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation,
      • Art. 350:  Right to conserve distinct Language, Script or Culture;
    • Social Safeguard:
      • Art. 23:  Prohibition of traffic in human beings and beggars and other similar forms of forced labour
      • Art. 24: Forbidding Child Labour.
    • Economic Safeguards:
      • Art.244:  Clause(1) Provisions of Fifth Schedule shall apply to the administration & control of the Scheduled Areas and Scheduled Tribes in any State other than the states of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura which are covered under Sixth Schedule, under Clause (2) of this Article.
      • Art. 275:  Grants-in-Aid to specified States (STs &SAs) covered under Fifth and Sixth Schedules of the Constitution.
    • Political Safeguards:
      • Art.164 (1): Provides for Tribal Affairs Ministers  in Bihar, MP and Orissa
      • Art. 330: Reservation of seats for STs in Lok Sabha
      • Art. 332: Reservation of seats for STs in State Legislatures
      • Art. 334: 10 years period for reservation (Amended several times to extend the period
      • Art. 243:  Reservation of seats in Panchayats
      • Art. 371: Special provisions in respect of the NE States and Sikkim

    Legislative Safeguards

    • The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 and the Rules 1995 framed there under.
    • Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1976 (in respect of Scheduled Tribes);
    • The Child Labour  (Prohibition and Regulation) Act1986;
    • States Acts & Regulations concerning alienation & restoration of  land belonging to STs;
    • Forest Conservation Act 1980;
    • Panchayati Raj (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1996;
    • Minimum Wages Act 1948.

    Initiatives 

    • Eklavya Model Schools
    • TRIFED
    • Pradhan Mantri Van Dhan Yojana
    • Development of PVTGs

    Related Committees

    • Xaxa Committee (2013)
    • Bhuria Commission (2002-2004)
    • Lokur Committee (1965)

    Source: TH