Report of the Scheduled Areas and Scheduled Tribes Commission: Volume I, 2002-2004
On July 18, 2002, President K.R. Narayanan appointed the Scheduled Areas and Scheduled Tribes Commission, with Dileep Singh Bhuria as the chairman. This Commission (also known as the Bhuria Commission; Bhuria, who was from an Adivasi community, was a Lok Sabha Member of Parliament; he was initially with the Congress and then with the Bharatiya Janata Party) was tasked with investigating and reporting on the problems of the Scheduled Tribes in India. It submitted its report (in three volumes) in 2004. The first such Commission, the Dhebar Commission, had submitted its report in 1961.
Volume I of the Bhuria Commission report examines issues related to the Scheduled Tribes (STs) at the national level. These include the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, the Tribal Sub-Plan (for the welfare of Adivasis, launched during the Fifth Five-Year Plan, 1974-78), land, the tribal economy, forests, panchayats, tribal health and medical services, tribal women, policies related to tribal communities, and reservation in jobs, services, and politics. Volume II looks at the situation in the states, and volume III contains relevant documents, papers and so on.
In the foreword to volume I, Bhuria says that it is important for us, as a nation, to introspect on how changing legislations and policies have “disrupted” the lives of STs. In subsequent sections, the report discusses various Acts related to STs and makes recommendations to improve their implementation.
There are around 698 Scheduled Tribes in the country, and demographic structures vary from one community to another. Many tribal communities depend on forests and farms for subsistence, and the large-scale destruction of wildlife and depletion of forests have affected the availability of food for them.
The National Sample Survey Office (NSSO; 44th Round, 1988-89) estimates that 46 per cent of rural tribal households earn a major share of their livelihood from self-employment and 47 per cent from working as labourers in rural areas.
Around 44 per cent of self-employed tribal families earn their livelihood from farming, and only 2 per cent have access to non-agricultural self-employment. Overall, occupations such as hunting and food-gathering are insignificant among STs.
The Commission recommends a comprehensive survey of tribal habitats where the economy is driven by pastoralism or hunting and food-gathering. It says that such a survey is essential to tribal development.
According to the Agricultural Census, the number of ST land holdings increased from 6.8 million in 1980-81 to 9.52 million in 1995-96. However, the average size of the holdings came down from 2.44 hectares to 1.84 hectares in the same period. The report says that this can be attributed to the fragmentation of holdings due to Partition and the sale or transfer of land.
The NSSO’s 49th Round survey (1988-89) found that 20.5 per cent of tribal households were landless, while 16.3 per cent of non-tribal households were landless.
The 2001 National Human Development Report by the Planning Commission (now NITI Aayog) says that 43 per cent of ST households live without safe drinking water, 23 per cent without electricity, and 7 per cent without toilets. It also says that the ST population spends 63 per cent of its per capita income on food, whereas the country’s entire rural population spends 59 per cent of its per capita income on food.
The Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, an offshoot of The Constitution (Seventy-Third Amendment) Act, 1992, lays down guidelines that state legislatures should follow while enacting laws for Scheduled Areas. However, the Commission says that states have not followed these guidelines and state laws may have to be amended. It also stresses that panchayats in Scheduled Areas, particularly gram sabhas, should be regarded as the “sheet anchor of socio-economic development activities” in their jurisdictions.
The report recommends a Village Health Guide for each village and says that he/she should preferably be a traditional medicine practitioner. It also suggests setting up one health sub-centre for every 3,000 people in tribal areas, in addition to primary health centres (PHCs) covering vast areas (since tribal populations are often scattered).
The 1991 Census says the literacy rate among ST women was 18.19 per cent, while the all-India female literacy rate was 39.29 per cent. For greater equality and gender justice, the Commission recommends political, social and economic empowerment, especially affirmative discrimination for ST women and their presence in decision-making bodies.
The report says that hardly any land was ceded to STs after land reforms for various reasons, including poor land records in zamindari areas and the manipulation of lower-rank revenue officials. As of March 2002, of the 73.73 lakh acres of land declared ‘surplus’, only 7.79 lakh acres were allotted to 8.3 lakh STs, which, the Commission says, is disproportionately small compared to what they should have been allotted.
Focus and Factoids by Anusha Ganapathi.
Scheduled Areas and Scheduled Tribes Commission
Government of India, New Delhi
16 Jul, 2004