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Draft NAtional Tribal Policy of 2006: Creating Consternation

The new draft tribal policy is a reworking of a similar document given shape by the previous NDA government. However, rather than rectify the lacunae noticed in the earlier policy, the new draft has several regressive features. The proposal to reinstate the "single line administration", for instance, would lead to a concentration of powers in the district official instead of fostering actual decentralisation at the grassroot level.


Creating Consternation

The new draft tribal policy is a reworking of a similar document given shape by the previous NDA government. However, rather than rectify the lacunae noticed in the earlier policy, the new draft has several regressive features. The proposal to reinstate the “single line administration”, for instance, would lead to a concentration of powers in the district official instead of fostering actual decentralisation

at the grassroot level.


eplacing the draft tribal policy of the previous National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government the present UPA government has come out with a fresh draft in July 2006. The draft contains a welcome policy orientation. Of late, based on an indicative statement made by a committee, namely, the Lokur Committee in 1964, the ministry of tribal affairs, government of India was considering “primitive” traits, distinctive culture, geographical isolation, shyness of contact with the “wider” community and “backwardness” as the criteria for the recognition of STs. While there is no dispute about distinctiveness of culture, whatever it may mean as a diagnostic trait, the other three criteria drew flak from many quarters. Now the government has come out with a facesaving admission that Lokur criteria are hardly relevant today. In fact backwardness is a relative term, shyness of contact is not a basic mental trait; it emerges among diverse peoples in diverse types of historical contexts. Concept of primitive trait has always been contested. As early as 1785, German philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder questioned the validity of the concept “primitive religion”.

Characterisation of peoples as primitive and culturally backward legitimised a paternalistic approach to them. And many people think that for paternalistic administration, the fifth schedule to the Constitution of India is an effective instrument. It is a different matter whether the fifth schedule has been really effective. The Seventh Five-Year Plan Working Group for Tribes in its report observed that while the fifth schedule was paternalistic in its thrust, the sixth schedule contains the germ of self-management. But even after that not only did the fifth schedule continue to exist, it was freshly extended to many areas in the 1970s and even now there is a persistent demand from some ex-bureaucrat experts of tribal administration for further extension of the fifth schedule to all areas of tribal concentration. In the draft policy this demand has been forcefully projected; at the same time the sixth schedule has been peremptorily brushed aside on the plea that this does not contain any instrument of self-management at lower than the district level. This is patently false. Para 4 (a) of the sixth schedule reads as follows “A Regional Council or District Council, as the case may be, with the previous approval of the governor may make rules regulating the constitution of

Economic and Political Weekly August 26, 2006 village councils and power, to be exercised by them”. The autonomous councils have in fact, recognised/established local level bodies of self-governance of different forms. In doing so, some of them have tried to synthesise traditional systems and modern imperatives. But the functionaries of the ministry of tribal affairs, and their mentors, being accustomed to seeing a particular type of organisation as the only genuine form of organs of democratic decentralisation, have revealed their cultural bias by their failure to see the actual presence of alternative structures in the tribal areas covered by the sixth schedule.

Vigorous advocacy for fresh extension of fifth schedule areas to currently uncovered areas compels one to ask, “Who are the real beneficiaries of the fifth schedule?” Certainly not the tribal peoples at this moment. Originally the fifth schedule was introduced in some exprincely regimes, and areas under massive feudal sway. After the commencement of the Constitution it was rightly felt at that moment the feudal forces were too strong in these areas for state governments to assist the tribal people in escaping their clutches. In the states having fifth schedule and also in some other states like West Bengal and Tamil Nadu having a sizeable tribal population Tribes Advisory Councils (TACs) were constituted. The governor was authorised to promulgate regulations in the interest of the tribal people after constituting the TACs. Besides even without consulting TACs they were authorised to set aside any legislation by the state legislatures and the Parliament. Furthermore, the executive power of the union was extended to give directive to the states regarding the administration of schedule areas. But except once in Madhya Pradesh over 50 years ago, the power conferred by the fifth schedule was never invoked by the union government. What then is the need of the fifth schedule? It has a great use value not for the tribal peoples but for the bureaucrats. Incidentally in the draft tribal policy document it has been mentioned that currently TACs have been constituted only in states with scheduled areas. This is not correct; as already mentioned, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu do not have scheduled areas but have TACs. It is strange that the nodal ministry is not aware of this fact. It is they who are really monitoring the TAC functions and are not concerned with TACs for their nonfunctional ornamental value.

As in 2001, the fifth schedule was in operation in nine states. Altogether 236 districts in these nine states had scheduled areas. Of these only in 16 districts were the STs in a majority. On the other hand, there was one district of Madhya Pradesh where more than 50 per cent of the population were STs but which was not a scheduled area. There were five districts in Maharashtra and undivided Madhya Pradesh where STs constituted less than 5 per cent of the population. When this scenario was brought to the notice of the state and union governments some of the districts were bifurcated or even trifurcated to curb out tribal predominant districts and make scheduled areas functionally viable. While the fifth schedule was not needed for the STs, they were needed to make the fifth schedule viable.

Some argue that Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1996 (PESA), has by conferring to STs ownership right over non-wood forest products benefited the

Princeton University

Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies


During the academic year 2007/08, the Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies will focus on the study of fear in history. We invite scholars from all disciplines to examine fear as an historical experience, its generative, productive as well as negative and destructive roles in history, and the processes by which it operates, spreads, dissipates, and is countered. As in the past, we hope to address topics and problems from a wide variety of periods and places, from prehistory to the present, and from all parts of the world. Topics could include but are not limited to the following: the emotional and psychic texture of fear in historical situations; the mode of fear’s operation, circulation, and dissolution; people’s fear of the state and the state’s fears as reflected in its generation of documentation and archives; fear of disease, war, empire and imperial dissolution; fear of the racial, religious, political, ideological, and sexual contamination; fear of disorder or the imposition of order; fear of change and fear of stasis; fear of technology and the projection of alternatives; fear of hell and for the fate of the soul; fear of urban dysfunction in generating utopian futures; fear of the “mob”; fear as a productive agent in violence, resistance, solidarity, artistic expression, and thought.

The Center will offer a limited number of research fellowships for one or two semesters, running from September to January and from February to June, designed for highly recommended younger scholars who have finished their dissertations by the application deadline as well as for senior scholars with established reputations. Fellows are expected to live in Princeton in order to take an active part in the intellectual interchange with other members of the Seminar. Funds are limited, and candidates are, therefore, strongly urged to apply to other grant-giving institutions as well as the Center, if they wish to come for a full year.

Written inquiries should be addressed to the Manager, Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies, Department of History, 129 Dickinson Hall, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544-1017, U.S.A. Applications can be made online at The deadline for applications and letters of recommendation for fellowships for 2007/2008 is December 1, 2006. Scholars who would like to offer a paper to one of the weekly Seminars are asked to send a brief description of their proposal and current curriculum vitae to the Director. Please note that we will not accept faxed applications.

Professor Gyan Prakash Director

Economic and Political Weekly August 26, 2006

tribal peoples. Looked at in a different way PESA has in fact deprived millions of tribal peoples from the benefit of ownership right over MFP in the country. As the draft Scheduled Tribe (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill 2005 shows, ownership rights over forest produce, can be conferred on the STs or even on non-tribals outside scheduled areas without leaning on the crutch of PESA. There are several million ST peoples in the states of Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, but there is no scheduled areas in these states. On the other hand as a recent publication of the ministry of rural development (report of the expert group headed by B N Yugandhar) shows around half the ST population of these states live within 5 km from the nearest forest. There was nothing in our Constitution or our legal system which prevented the states or the government of India from conferring the same rights on the STs of these states. Thus the fifth schedule has provided a good alibi to the government of India and some of the states to discriminate against sections of the ST population.

It is to be noted that while great concern has been shown for covering more areas under the mystique of the fifth schedule there is silence about monopoly trade rights of states over notified forest products, and about floor price of such products.

It is also to be noted that while on May 20, 2006, in a workshop attended by about 60 tribal leaders including Giridhar Gomang, former chief minister of Orissa and current MP, a declaration was adopted for replacement of the fifth schedule by the sixth schedule covering all tribal predominant areas with the positive aspects of PESA. The draft policy is silent about the same.

Mention has already been made that districts have been bifurcated or even trifurcated since the 2001 Census to make the scheduled areas viable. This has indeed benefited the higher bureaucracy whereas in several line departments new district level posts had to be created, lower bureaucracy and the STs were hardly benefited, as they were already located in places lower than the district level.

As in the policy document the criteria of recognition of STs have changed, thus one would have expected a change in approach to the tribal peoples. If they are not primitive and shy of contact then the paternalistic approach sould be replaced by participatory, if not partnership approach. It has been argued that gram sabhas at the hamlet or ward level rather than at inter-hamlet gram panchayat level should be the prime functional units of panchayat system which would ensure effective participation. There are large numbers of studies which show that even after such structural arrangement, effective participation does not exist. But even if for argument’s sake it is agreed that there is effective participation, one can see that at this level, participation would not go beyond selection of beneficiaries and at least ensuring that the benefits actually reach them. At this level neither the villagers nor the state functionaries would have the information back-up, so as to be able to pass opinion and press for the acceptance of the same in matters like determining the norms of benefits and of the plans and programmes. There is always a viable level of decentralisation depending on the social mobilisation through participation in struggles for rights of different orders. The present mechanical approach of decentralisation of power seems to be based on the doctrine that if there is a whip there would be a horse. Rather the reverse is true. If there is a horse and if the necessary will is there, the whip will not be missing.

Tired Clichés

The draft policy is nothing but old wine in a new bottle.

If there was any reason to hope that, in spite of verbal gerrymandering the government aims at a participatory, if not partnership approach, it has been dashed to the ground by the astounding announcement in the policy document that “single line administration” would be introduced in the tribal predominant areas. Single line administration was the acme of colonial administration at the local level. It was developed in Africa and in India it was adopted in Arunachal (then NEFA) during the colonial era. Under this administration system there were no separate line departments at the district level. All was fused into one line department headed by the political officer/deputy commissioner. In this system any semblance of local selfgovernment was out of question. It is an irony that an ex-bureaucrat who had been associated with tribal administration for more than three decades, had in 1974 proposed the introduction of single line administration in the tribal sub-plan area, then in the process of being formulated. Faced with severe criticism from knowledgeable persons, he had to back-track and remain publicly silent on this proposal all these years. Even then single line administration was introduced in Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh and it soon came to an ignoble end.

It is not known whether before suggesting the introduction of the single line administration the tribal affairs ministry has examined why it collapsed in Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. One wonders, whether it is just a coincidence that after a lapse of almost three decades the original propounder of the preposterous idea has in a published article in May 2006 resurrected his move. Earlier some of us thought that he was confusing the colonial concept of single line administration with the perfectly correct concept of “single window delivery system”. But in the article of 2006, while the historical context he has mentioned is astonishingly incorrect and misleading, he has left no scope for doubt about what is meant by single line administration. The ministry will have to clarify whether with the introduction of single line administration in the future they were aware of the implication of what was being suggested. This raises the question who will scan and include various responses to the draft policy on the website. Has a nationally acceptable expert group thought of?

If a partnership approach was intended, the contents in the draft policy would have been very different. The present draft has all the time harped on what the government will do for the STs. There is not a single sentence, apart from mentioning the unfortunate aspect of Naxalism, about what the tribal peoples are doing for their advancement in education, health, gender rights, human rights, cultural rights, environmental security and so on and how and to what extent partnership would be established with the ST people’s march to social transformation in close alliance with other progressive sections of the society. Instead there are innumerable clichés. If one compares the present draft policy with the eighth and ninth plan documents, one can easily locate their repetition. The tenth plan was slightly different. It might be that different people were involved in drafting the same. One can pass over harmless clichés with a tolerant smile, but when under the cover of clichés, such matters as research and functions of the tribal research institutes, which have in most cases become symbols of national shame, tend to be covered up, it becomes difficult not to be disdainful about such the clichés. EPW

Economic and Political Weekly August 26, 2006

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