“The Committee members are distressed that even the status of statutory entity does not entitle NCST to have a separate entity. They are of the firm opinion that when it was decided to create NCST, it was never envisaged that it would function as a part of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs. If it were so, there was no need to constitute the Commission as a statutory body and it could have continued to function as a non-statutory body as earlier. The NCST would not be able to work fearlessly and independently unless it is given independence in its day to day working by allowing it to decide on its own administrative, financial and legal matters.”
– The Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, in its Thirty-Third Report
The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) is a powerful constitutional body mandated to protect and promote the rights of the indigenous and tribal peoples. Being a constitutional autonomous body, it has been vested with the powers of a civil court for investigation and inquiry. The power of the Commission to “summoning and enforcing the attendance of any person from any part of India and examining him under oath” as provided under Clause 8 of Article 338A of Constitution of India is enforceable even to investigate the violations committed by the members of the armed forces over whom even the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) does not have jurisdiction. Hence, in a way, NCST is more powerful than the NHRC of India. But all this is theoretical, reality is utterly shameful.
The NCST has power to frame its own procedures but it has framed such Rules of Procedures which have it subservient to the State authorities. Rule 83 of Rules of Procedure of the NCST states: “All rules, regulations and orders issued by the Central Government and applicable in the Ministries/Departments will also apply in the Commission.” – a thoughtless way to reduce a National Commission into another spineless department of the Government.
As per its Rules of Procedure, the NCST has to take prior permission from the concerned state government to investigate any human rights violation in that state and NCST team members are expected to follow the “norms” prescribed by the state authorities. The NCST has no power to implement its recommendations. Hence, the NCST has failed to protect the rights of over 85 million Scheduled Tribes in India.
Acute Shortage of Manpower
The status of NCST as a neglected department of the MTA can also be seen from the acute shortage of manpower. The sanctioned strength of staff is 124 in the NCST Headquarters in Delhi as well as the six Regional Offices. But the actual strength of staff never reached the sanctioned strength since start of its functioning. This has hugely impacted the functioning of the NCST including its ability even to reply to queries under the RTI Act. It is true that the NCST lacks sufficient funds but ironically, it has even failed to utilize even the allocated funds optimally.
In a reply to an applications under RTI Act seeking certain information from NCST, It candidly acknowledged “acute shortage of manpower” while refusing release of information. The NCST in its reply stated:
“Information sought by you covers a period of three years and relates to all the Units and Officials of the Commission and therefore, it will take huge time to compile the same. Moreover, this Commission has acute shortage of manpower to deal with the normal duties of the Commission viz. investigation into specific complaints relating to violation of safeguards for Scheduled Tribes and in case it concentrates on compiling the voluminous information sought by you, the entire work of the Commission will virtually come to halt and it will totally hamper the functioning of the Commission as per the constitutional mandate.”
Nothing can be more unfortunate for the poor tribals that a constitutional body aimed to protect them from violence and harassment is reduced to the status of a toothless and neglected department.