Move to change ‘cumbersome’ procedure for inclusion on ST list is put on hold

The Union government has put on hold a proposal to change the procedure for adding new communities as Scheduled Tribes (STs) which has been in the pipeline for more than eight years. Instead, it will continue with the existing longer procedure, senior government officials said.

According to a government task force, the present procedure “defeats the Constitutional agenda for affirmative action and inclusion” and is “cumbersome” and “time-consuming”. However, government officials, justifying the decision, told The Hindu that it was followed for decades and was scientific and most practical.

The proposal to change the procedure was based on the recommendations of the Task Force on Scheduling of Tribes constituted in February 2014, headed by the then Tribal Affairs Secretary, Hrusikesh Panda.

It noted that as many as 40 communities had been excluded from the ST list or were facing delays in inclusion due to the current procedure and criteria, and recommended their immediate inclusion.

The task force’s report, with suggestions to change the procedure and the criteria for adding new communities as STs, has been with the government since May 2014.

In the Lok Sabha in March 2017, when asked if the proposal had been put on hold, the then Tribal Affairs Minister, Jual Oram, replied that the proposal had been sent to the States and Union Territories, and that only a few States were yet to respond. The government repeated this reply in the Rajya Sabha in December 2017.

Now, senior government officials told The Hindu that the proposal has been put on hold for the time being, meaning that the existing procedure would be followed in the meantime. “This is a norm which has been followed for decades and is quite scientific and most practical,” an official said.

Exclusionary procedure

In its report, the Panda committee had explained that there were multiple obstacles unnecessarily preventing at least 40 communities from being listed as ST. For instance, several tribes pronounced or spelt their community’s name in different ways; some communities were split when new States were created, leaving them as ST in one State and not in the other; and some tribespeople were forcibly taken as indentured labour to other States where they were left out of the ST list.

“The Panda committee had gone into some detail about whether there is spelling change, whether there is any phonetic variation, which of the tribes could be considered because they are slightly similar in sound and all that,” Tribal Affairs Secretary Anil Kumar Jha said.

“Later, it was considered that we have to follow procedure. And it has to go to the RGI [Registrar-General of India].”

Current procedure

Under the current procedure, each proposal for the inclusion of a community as an ST has to originate from the relevant State government, and is sent to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, which sends it to the office of the RGI.

Once approved by the office of the RGI, it is sent to the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes and only after its approval it is sent to the Cabinet.

The task force had said that when the modalities were being framed in 1996, the Ministry of Home Affairs had said that “the office of the RGI should merely be required to provide information available with it”, as it not only lacked sufficient anthropologists and sociologists “but also because no build-up of the data bank on tribes/castes based on the ethnographic study/surveys has been possible for long, limiting its ability of to do justice to this task.”

The proposal to change the procedure was based on a task force recommendation