National Commission For Scheduled Tribes
National Commission for Scheduled Tribes is a constitutional body. It safeguards the interest of the Scheduled Tribes in India. The Commission is committed to the full implementation of various acts like the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (POA) Act, 1989, PCR Act, 1955, etc. It also offers protection to the Scheduled Tribes community from exploitation and discrimination and provides facilities to uplift the community.
After independence, the definition included in the 1931 Census was used in the initial years to define the criteria for the recognition of the Scheduled Tribes in the Indian Constitution.
According to the Census 1931, Scheduled Tribes are “backward tribes” living in the “excluded” and “partially excluded” areas in the Provincial Assembly. The Government of India Act 1935 for the first time called for the representatives of “backward tribes”. Odisha is the only state where around 62 tribal communities are found which is the largest in number. In the states like Delhi, Pondicherry, Haryana, Chandigarh, and Punjab, no tribe was identified.
Definition of Scheduled Tribes
Article 366 (25) of the Indian Constitution states that those communities that are scheduled in accordance with Article 342 can be termed Scheduled Tribes. According to Article 342 of the Constitution, those tribes/ tribal communities/ part of/ groups within these tribes and tribal communities that have been declared by the President through a public notification are Scheduled Tribes.
Criteria for Defining Scheduled Tribes
The Lokur Committee was set up in 1965 and it recommended five criteria for the identification of Scheduled Tribes which are as follows-
A) Distinct culture
B) Geographical isolation
C) Primitive traits
E) Shyness of contact with the community at large
In order to implement the safeguards properly which are provided for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the Constitution, a special officer was appointed under Article 338 of the Indian Constitution. The special officer is designated as a Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and was assigned the responsibility to look into all the matters relating to the safeguards for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. He is also empowered to report about it to the President.
Later on, members of the Parliament made a demand to amend Article 338 of the Constitution. According to them, the special officer was not enough to look after the implementation of the safeguards for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. As a result, the one-member system was replaced with a multi-member system.
Therefore, in 1978 the first Commission for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes was set up. After the passing up of the 65th Amendment Bill 1990, constitutional recognition was provided to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and above-mentioned Scheduled Tribes and the first Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes was abolished. With the 89th Constitutional Amendment Act 2003, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes was bifurcated into National Commission for Scheduled Castes and National Commission for Scheduled Tribes. In 2004, under the chairmanship of Kunwar Singh, the first National Commission for Scheduled Tribes was formed.
Six National Commissions for Scheduled Tribes
Between 2004 to 2022, around 6 National Commissions for Scheduled Tribes were constituted namely,
- The first National Commission for Scheduled Tribes was chaired by Kunwar Singh Tekam in the year 2004.
- The second National Commission for Scheduled Tribes was chaired by Urmila Singh in the year 2007.
- The third National Commission for Scheduled Tribes was chaired by Rameshwar Oraon in the year 2010.
- The fourth National Commission for Scheduled Tribes was chaired by Rameshwar Oraon in the year 2013.
- The fifth National Commission for Scheduled Tribes was chaired by Nand Kumar Sai in the year 2017.
- The sixth National Commission for Scheduled Tribes was chaired by Harsh Chouhan in the year 2021.
Composition of National Commission for Scheduled Tribes
It consists of a Chairman, Vice-Chairman, and 3 other full-time (including 1 female member) members appointed by the President by warrant under his hand and seal. The status of Chairman is that of a Cabinet Minister and the Vice-Chairman holds the rank of a Minister of State and other members have the rank of a Secretary to the Indian Government. Chairman, Vice-Chairman, and other members hold the office for a period of 3 years. Members cannot be appointed for more than two terms.
Powers of National Commission for Scheduled Tribes-
It has the power to regulate its own procedure for the purpose of investigation and inquiry the commission has the power of the Civil Court and has the authority to do the following –
1) It can examine a person on oath.
2) In order to examine witnesses and documents, it can issue Commissions.
3) It can receive evidence on affidavits.
4) It can discover and produce any documents.
5) It can summon and enforce the attendance of any person and examine on oath.
Functions of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes-
Following are the functions of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes which have been enumerated in the Constitution-
1) To monitor and investigate all the matters which are related to the safeguards of the Scheduled Tribes and to evaluate the working of such safeguards. These safeguards can be provided either in the Constitution of India or under any law or under any order of the Government.
2) To present reports to the President annually or at other times as and when needed regarding the working of those safeguards.
3) To make recommendations in the above-mentioned reports regarding the effective implementation of the safeguards and the protection, welfare, and socio-economic development of the Scheduled Tribes.
4) It can examine any person on oath and can summon and enforce the attendance of any person belonging to any part of India.
5) To evaluate, participate, and advise on the planning process and progress of the socio-economic development of the Scheduled Tribes under the Union or any State.
6) To fulfill the functions related to the protection, welfare, development, and advancement of the Scheduled Tribes as deemed fit by the President or any law.
7) To look into the specific complaints related to the deprivation of rights and safeguards of the Scheduled Tribes.
It is important to mention that the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes has been successful in achieving the socio-economic development of the Scheduled Tribes to a reasonable extent. However, the constitutional body is working in cooperation with different organs of the government to fulfill the purpose behind its establishment.