Inclusion of communities in ST list still on the backburner

Opposition MPs question government’s inaction on 2014 task force’s recommendation of over 40 communities for inclusion

Updated - December 19, 2022 01:26 am IST

Published - December 18, 2022 08:29 pm IST - New Delhi

File photo of Union Minister Arjun Munda.

File photo of Union Minister Arjun Munda. | Photo Credit: PTI

Over the past one week, while the Parliament has discussed the inclusion of various communities in the Scheduled Tribes lists of Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Himachal Pradesh, Opposition MPs — specifically from Odisha — have questioned the government about the list of communities that were already recommended for inclusion on a priority basis over eight years ago by a government task force.

The Panda Task Force, constituted in February 2014 under the leadership of erstwhile Tribal Affairs Secretary Hrusikesh Panda, had compiled a comprehensive list of over 40 communities from across the country that it felt should be included in ST lists on a priority basis.

Comprehensive list

Of those communities, nine are in Odisha, 26 are part of the tea tribes in Assam, eight are in Chhattisgarh, and a few are in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

A few of them are sub-sets of communities already categorised as ST, a few others are phonetic variations of existing tribes, a few are ones who were left out when States were bifurcated, others still are those omitted from lists inexplicably, and a few more are those losing out on categorisation because they were forcibly taken away from their homelands as indentured labour to other States or were displaced due to industrialisation, the task force headed by Dr. Panda had concluded.

Kandha Kumbhar, Jodia (and synonyms), Chuktia Bhunjia, Saara, Mankidia, Porja (and synonyms), Banda Paraja, Durua (and synonyms), and Paharia (in specific districts) communities are the ones in Odisha.

In Tamil Nadu, it recommened the Pulayan (and synonyms) community, saying it had been excluded inexplicably. In Andhra Pradesh, it suggested the Konda Kumari community (and its synonyms).

The task force had concluded that as many as 26 of the tea tribes of Assam, those who were forcibly taken as indentured labourers from states like Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, should be included in the ST list. It justified this “based on the key principle that the ‘indentured labourers’ are a category which is distinct from ‘voluntary migration’”. These communities are Mal Paharia, Bedia, Saora, Shabar, Kharia, Gond, Munda, Bonda, Mahli, Paraja, Chik Baraik, Kol, Khond (Kandha), Chero, Koya, Birhor, Bhumji, Halba, Majwar, Dhanwar, Baiga, Lodha, Nagasia, Bhil, Oraon, and Santal.

Keeping with the same principle, it had also recommended for inclusion tribal communities of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh that had been displaced on account of the Narmada Dam Project as this too qualified as “involuntary migration”.

It also had recommended the inclusion of various Devnagri versions of tribes in the ST list of Chhattisgarh, such as Bharia, Pando, Gadaba, Bhuihar, Nagasia, Dhangad and Kond.

Significantly, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs has introduced a Bill this Winter Session in Lok Sabha, proposing the inclusion of nearly all of the above mentioned synonyms in the ST list of Chhattisgarh. This Bill is expected to be taken up for discussion today (Monday).

Need for changes

Odisha MP Chandrani Murmu (BJP), in Lok Sabha last week, asked the Minister of Tribal Affairs to expedite the process of including the communities in Odisha on priority basis, as recommended by the task force. She had also pointed out that the Union government was currently sitting on State government recommendations to include as many as 160 communities in the State’s ST list since the 1970s.

Similarly, Nationalist Congress Party MP Supriya Sule asked the government — in Lok Sabha on more than one occasion last week — to bring a comprehensive Bill to include all such communities that had been left out of ST lists.

Interestingly, the task force had noted that these communities continued to be excluded or were facing delays in inclusion due to the current procedure and criteria for inclusion in ST lists and had recommended changes to both. It had said the procedure “defeats the Constitutional agenda for affirmative action and inclusion”, was “cumbersome” and “time-consuming” and that the criteria for defining communities as STs based on their characteristic traits (being followed since the 1960s) was “obsolete”.

The Hindu had last month reported that the government has decided to put these recommendations on hold after mulling over it for eight years. Last week, Minister of Tribal Affairs Arjun Munda in Parliament defended the criteria for defining communities as STs, saying, “Tribal societies live on the basis of their characteristic traits. These are not societies that change.”

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