The Tribal Affairs Ministry on March 15 insisted once again that the current procedure for inclusion of communities in the Scheduled Tribes list was “adequate”. It was responding to a question in the Rajya Sabha, which raised concerns about the need for a revision in the criteria and procedure for inclusion in the list.
According to the modalities for inclusion first framed in 1999, the proposal for inclusion must originate from the respective State or Union Territory government. Following this, the proposal is sent to the Union Tribal Affairs Ministry, which sends it to the Office of the Registrar General of India (ORGI). If the ORGI approves the inclusion, the proposal is forwarded to the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes.
Only after the concurrence of these institutions, will the proposal go forward to the Cabinet to bring in the appropriate amendment to the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order, 1950.
In response to a question from Biju Janata Dal MP Muzibulla Khan, the government said, “These modalities are adequate for consideration of proposals for inclusion of communities in the list of Scheduled Tribes of a State/UT.”
‘Obsolete and condescending’
In response to an RTI query from The Hindu, the ORGI had said in January, 2022 that it continues to follow the criteria set out by the Lokur Committee in 1965 to decide whether a community can be included in the ST list. These criteria include: indications of primitive traits, distinctive culture, geographical isolation, shyness of contact with the community at large, and backwardness.
Both the procedure and criteria for inclusion of communities had been strongly criticised by an internal government task force formed in February 2014, for being “obsolete”, “condescending”, “dogmatic” and “rigid”. The committee, led by then-Tribal Affairs Secretary Hrusikesh Panda had also said that the procedure as it was being followed was “cumbersome” and “defeats the Constitutional agenda for affirmative action and inclusion”. The task force had concluded that these criteria and procedure were resulting in the exclusion of or delays in inclusion of nearly 40 communities across the country.
Proposal on hold
Based on this task force’s report, the first Narendra Modi-led Cabinet had, within days of taking charge in 2014, moved a draft Cabinet note to change the procedure and the criteria. However, after being in the pipeline for nearly eight years, the proposal was put on hold, as The Hindu reported in 2022.
Since then, Tribal Affairs Minister Arjun Munda has insisted in Parliament that the criteria set out by the Lokur Committee was appropriate and that tribal societies do not change.