Rights of Indigenous People
“Indigenous people around the world have sought recognition of their identities, their ways of life and their right to traditional lands, territories and natural resources; yet throughout history, their rights have been violated.” United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, October 2006
There has been a systemic failure in giving tribals a stake in the modern economic processes that inexorably intrude into their living spaces… The systematic exploitation and social and economic abuse of our tribal communities can no longer be tolerated. – Dr Manmohan Singh
In last six decades India has achieved significant milestones in the areas of economic growth, cultural assimilation and global political interests. However, within the purview of development the tribal affairs have been shoved under the shelf to serve the vested interest of some. The poor tribals have been made to feel like aliens in their own indigenous lands.
Over the decades the process of development has frequently led to a progressive erosion of their traditional rights over their land resources including the forests. This can be aptly ascribed to the lacunae in the laws, faulty implementation, and rapacious exploitation by the unscrupulous traders, money-lenders, etc.
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 ofAssam, 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.
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
Village level democracy became a real prospect for Indiain 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. The Act extended the provisions of Panchayats to the tribal areas of nine states that have Fifth Schedule Areas. Most of the North eastern states under Sixth Schedule Areas (where autonomous councils exist) are not covered by PESA, as these states have their own Autonomous councils for governance. The nine states with Fifth Schedule areas are:
Andhra Pradesh Chhattisgarh Gujarat
Himachal Pradesh Jharkhand Maharashtra
Madhya Pradesh Orissa Rajasthan.
Read full 16 page report on PESA: PESA_ACT_1996