All India Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (AIVKA), an RSS affiliate that works for tribal population, in its central executive meeting held earlier this week, passed a proposal that the criteria and procedure prescribed by the law and the Lokur Committee (1965) should be strictly followed while adding new castes to the list of Scheduled Tribes.
AIVKA maintained that despite having “well explained” parameters on who can be included in an ST list, it was noticed after 1970 that many developed and affluent castes were included too, bypassing the prescribed norms in the face of political gains and pressure from the domineering society.
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“We question how the tribes, which were rejected many times from inclusion in ST list by highest constitutional institutions as well as by the States, are instantly being included in the list 75 years after the Independence. How [are] government institutions like Registrar General of India (RGI) and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) changing their reports?” Girish Kuber, Akhil Bharatiya Hitraksha (protection of rights) Pramukh of AIVKA, asked.
He further questioned how political announcements are made about the inclusion of new communities to the Scheduled Tribes list without them fulfilling the desired criteria or going through due process.
“The same happened in [the] case of the Hatti community in Himachal Pradesh,” Mr. Kuber said, adding that several communities in Maharashtra are also on the verge of being included to the ST list without adherence to due procedure.
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The Central Executive Board of AIVKA, hence, calls upon the tribal society, especially its socio-political leaders, elected people’s representatives and youths to remain aware of this, create public awareness in the society and create pressure on the governments to oppose it through all constitutional means.
The Central government, until December 2017, had insisted in Parliament that it was considering a proposal to change the criteria for scheduling new communities as STs based on the report of an internal task force. The government had maintained that the 60-year-old standards set by the Lokur Committee were “obsolete”, “condescending”, “dogmatic”, and “rigid”.
In November 2022, however, the Centre declared that it will stick to Lokur Committee’s criteria.
The process begins with a recommendation from the State government concerned. It is then forwarded to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, which reviews the proposal and sends it out for further review by the Registrar General & Census Commissioner (RGI) and National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST). Only with both their consent, the decision to include any tribe goes to the Cabinet for final approval.
The RGI and the NCST also have to follow the criteria laid down by the Lokur Committee to decide on any proposal. The prescribed parameters are that tribe in question has signs of primitive traits, distinct culture, geographical isolation, widespread inhibition of contact with other communities and finally, social and economic backwardness.
According to Article 342 (2), after 1950, the Parliament takes the final call on the inclusion of tribes to the ST list, following which the President must approve it.
The RSS affiliate maintained that a caste or group should not be included to the list merely because it has a distinctive custom or a different dialect; it must fulfil all five criteria listed by the Committee.
Claiming that many castes are today competing to make it to the list, Mr. Kuber said, “In such a situation, the reservation of jobs and admission for higher education of the STs will not only be adversely affected but also the land owned by the socio-economically backward, geographically isolated tribes will be transferred to other influential Scheduled Castes. This will promote an atmosphere of discontent, unrest and anger in tribal areas of the country.” Examples of such unrest are being witnessed in many States already, he alleged.
The officials of AIVKA also stressed that after 1950, while the number of tribes on the ST list has increased, the reservation given to STs by the Centre and the States hasn’t increased.