Tribal Affairs Ministry evades question on pending ST status requests

Describes the complex procedure for inclusion of tribes to say ‘many such proposals are under examination at different levels’

Published - February 06, 2023 07:50 pm IST - New Delhi

Photo used for representational purpose only.

Photo used for representational purpose only. | Photo Credit: A.M. Faruqui

The Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) on Monday evaded a direct question from Odisha’s Congress MP, Saptagiri Sankar Ulaka, on the number of requests for Scheduled Tribe status pending with the Union government and appropriate authorities.

Minister of State for Tribal Affairs Bishweswar Tudu, responding to the question in the Lok Sabha, refused to specify the number of such requests pending with the Union government and instead cited the complex procedure for scheduling of tribes to state, “Many such proposals may therefore remain under examination at different levels.”

Mr. Ulaka was among the several Opposition MPs, who in the last Winter Session, had questioned the government repeatedly over why it was only selectively including communities in the ST list, when scores of such requests remain pending, including many that had already been recommended for priority inclusion by an internal government task force in 2014. 

The task force, headed by then Tribal Affairs Secretary Hrusikesh Panda, had concluded that the existing procedure for scheduling was too “cumbersome” and “defeats the Constitutional agenda of affirmative action and inclusion”. It had also called the criteria “obsolete” and thus recommended the priority inclusion of over 40 communities whose requests were pending. 

The first PM Narendra Modi-led Cabinet had initiated a Cabinet note to implement some of the recommendations but eight years later, this proposal had been put on hold. 

The current procedure requires each such request to originate from the concerned State/UT government. This is then sent to MoTA, which sends it to the Office of the Registrar General of India (ORGI) and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes for approval. Only if both these bodies agree to the inclusion is a Cabinet note prepared and legislation brought in to amend the ST list concerned. 

If the ORGI rejects an application, the requisite information is sought from the concerned State government and if the ORGI rejects it twice, then the proposal is defeated. 

The ORGI continues to follow the criteria framed in 1965 by the Lokur Committee, which defined a tribe based on “indications of primitive traits, distinctive culture, geographical isolation, shyness of contact with the community at large, backwardness”.  

Four new tribes added in last 3 years

Meanwhile, in response to a different question in Lok Sabha, the MoTA said it had facilitated the addition of four communities in ST lists of Jharkhand (Puran tribe), Tripura (sub-tribe of Darlong), and Tamil Nadu (Narikoravan and Kuruvikkaran) in the last three years. 

The Ministry added that six communities in Uttar Pradesh had been declared as ST in three districts; two tribes were removed from the ST lists in Arunachal Pradesh and Jharkhand respectively; and several synonyms for existing STs had been added in the last three years. 

However, replying to the specific question of Assam MP Abdul Khaleque of Congress on the status of the proposal for the inclusion of Koch Rajbongshi and five other communities (Tai-Ahom, Chutia, Matak, Moran, and Tea tribes) to the ST list of Assam, Mr. Tudu again refused to furnish a direct answer, repeating the procedure that is followed instead.

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