Nature Tal

The National Tribal Policy- Is it forgotten?

The general election 2014 is round the corner. A decade ago, the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) government had declared The National Tribal Policy, albeit a few days before 2004 general election. It was a sequel to the creation of the exclusive Ministry of Tribal Affairs in October 1999 and the creation of two tribal dominated states viz., Chhatisgarh (1st November) and Jharkhand (15th November) in 2000. But the NDA lost the election and was succeeded by the UPA (United Progressive Alliance). The objections to the NDA formulated National Tribal Policy were quite vocal and the UPA government had to review the said policy. Between July2006 and May 2007, it drafted a new National Tribal Policy covering, as the Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment (2010-11) had observed (in its report released in August 2011) , “all-important issues that concern tribals such as alienation of Tribal Land; Tribal Forest Interface; Displacement, Resettlement & Rehabilitation; Enhancement of Human Development Index, Creation of Critical Infrastructure, violent Manifestations; Conservation & Development of particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (P or VTGs) TSP strategy; Administration of Tribal Areas etc”.

But the Committee did question the delay in its implementation and recorded the reply it received was as follows: " The draft Policy was referred to Group of Ministers (GoM) as per direction of Cabinet. The final report of the GoM was received on 5.3.2008. The draft Policy was submitted to Cabinet Secretariat on 7 th November 2008. Cabinet Secretariat asked to obtain the approval of additional post for Policy Implementation Cell from the Department of Expenditure and for further consultation with Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The approval of Department of Expenditure was obtained for 11 posts for Policy Implementation Cell on 5.4.2010. After this, the draft Policy was sent to PMO on 17.5.2010. The PMO asked the Ministry to place it before the National Council for Tribal Welfare in the first instance. The matter was placed before the Standing Committee for Tribal Welfare at its meeting held on 12.1.2011 and the draft Policy will be placed before the National Council for Tribal Welfare. The matter is under process for consideration of the National Council for Tribal Welfare as per directions of PMO. The Policy will be ready for implementation after the approval of the Cabinet ”. This reply, the Committee records was supplemented by the then Secretary in the following words: " Coming to the draft National Tribal Policy, around 2007, it was drafted; it has gone through various levels. It is now to go to the National Tribal Welfare Council, headed by the PM, and thereafter, it will go to the Cabinet. I am hopeful that we should be able to do it in very near future or may be during the current year; will try to do it. I would say that the Department is conscious of its responsibilities and we will not be looking back ”.

In fact the delay was so conspicuous that it had attracted criticism from the media even before the above-mentioned Standing Committee raised the question on it. To cite an instance, Cithara Paul wrote in The Telegraph (May 21, 2010), “ Developed in 2004 by the NDA government, the National Tribal Policy-the first comprehensive policy document drawn up for the country’s 9 crore tribals- had been in cold storage because of opposition from mining and industry lobbies.”

The delay, however, was not to come to an end. As late as in January 2013 (4th January 2013) the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes recommended the modifications in the Draft National Policy on Tribals with the following observations:

4. The Commission noted that the Ministry of Tribal Affairs have re-circulated the draft National Tribal Policy, which was circulated in July 2006 for seeking comments of various Ministries/Departments and various developments in different social, educational and economic sectors that have taken place since 2006. The Commission also observed that the NCST was set up in February 2004, and since then the Commission has submitted 5 Annual Reports and one Special Report. These Reports contain important suggestions and recommendations relating to tribal development and policy framework on various important issues concerning STs. The Commission further observed that the latest Census was conducted in the year 2011 and provisional data relating to population, gender ratio, literacy etc. among STs may be available, which may be obtained from the Census Commissioner for incorporating suitable modifications in the Draft Policy based on the latest indicators.

5. The Commission expressed that those developments and the various strategies/initiatives formulated by MTA/Planning Commission and other Ministries/ Departments and recommendations made by the Commission on various important issues concerning STs may be suitably considered and incorporated in the draft National Tribal Policy. The Commission also observed that the Draft Policy does not include Action Plan with time frame for various activities. The draft NTP may be recast accordingly by the MTA and circulated among various Ministries/ Departments for their comments. Based on the feedback received, the final revised Draft NTP may be sent to this Commission for comments as per the directions of the Cabinet Secretariat vide their instructions dated 16/02/2012, advising all Ministries/Deptts. To ensure that the National Commission For Scheduled Castes, and the National Commission For Scheduled Tribes, as the case may be, shall mandatorily be consulted by them through the Ministry/Department administratively concerned with the Commission before finalization of notes for consideration of the Cabinet/Cabinet Committees .

This observation of NCST was communicated to the Secretary, Ministry of Tribal Affairs on 8th January 2013.

The detailed account above indicates how the Draft National Tribal Policy was being pushed around on various pretexts and never took a final shape. Further, the decline in government’s interest in the National Tribal Policy also becomes apparent from the Annual Reports of The Ministry of Tribal Affairs from 2006-7 to 2012-13. Whereas in the Annual Reports 06-07 and 08-09 a chapter (Chapter-15) used to be devoted on it, in the Annual Reports 09-10, 10-11 and 11-12 it was confined to a section (Section-1.3) in the chapter entitled Highlights, to be finally left out without being mentioned in the Annual Report 12-13. As to why the UPA government in its ten years tenure could not give final shape to the Draft National Tribal Policy begs explanation from the political class as well as the concerned social scientists. The optimists might have hoped that this unfinished task of the UPA government would be taken up if they win 2014 election and form the government. But if the Election Manifesto of the Congress Party, the dominant constituent of UPA, is any indication, one does not get any such assurance as it is not even mentioned in the Manifesto. Then, will the NDA resurrect the National Tribal Policy, if it comes to power? After all, they were the first to conceive and declare a National Tribal Policy a decade ago, controversies notwithstanding. But again from the election manifesto of the BJP, the dominant constituent of the NDA, one does not get such assurance though in it one finds a proposal of a scheme, which will ‘ensure that the tribal land is not alienated’. One wonders, why these two political combinations, which had once proposed a comprehensive National Tribal Policy, have suddenly become indifferent towards it? Even in the manifesto of the CPI (Marxist), which had once supported the UPA (during its first stint: 2004-09), one does not find any reference to the National Tribal Policy, let alone a proposal of it. It appears as if the idea of the National Tribal Policy, in currency for almost a decade has been overwhelmed by the political amnesia. Or should it be construed that our mainstream political class has decided to dump the idea of a comprehensive National Tribal Policy?

It is important to remember that the need to have a comprehensive National Tribal Policy was conceived when the economic regime in the country had traversed almost a decade through the process of liberalization, privatization and globalization, and habitats of the tribal people were coming under increasing threat of land alienation due to private investments in exploitation of natural resources underneath. As the draft National Tribal Policy identifies, ‘a deep sense of exclusion and alienation’ was ‘manifesting itself in the form of tribal unrest in various tribal pockets’, and tribal people were beginning to ‘view the State as their exploiter and enemy, and the preachers of violent action as their protector and friend’ The Policy, naturally envisaged a correction to this problem of land alienation as amelioration to the threatened tribal and held ‘such violent manifestations should not be viewed as merely law and order problems to be tackled through policing, or by arming the tribals to fight these events as is being done in certain areas. The solution lies in legalizing giving rights to the ST communities over natural and financial resources and addressing the issue of economic deprivation in a prompt and time bound manner’.

In the background of such policy statement, and on finding the political class developing cold feet towards finalizing a comprehensive National Tribal Policy, should it not be surmised that the political class is reluctant to ‘giving rights to the ST communities over natural and financial resources’ while viewing violent manifestations as ‘merely law and order problems to be tackled through policing, or by arming the tribals to fight these events’?

The movement of the draft National Tribal Policy, however, presents an interesting case of competing interests, of tribal communities and of private investors with their prying eyes on natural resources. It is any body’s guess whose interest has finally won, when the National Tribal Policy vanishes from the discourse on tribal people and the political discourse in the country. (BKN)