#KnowYourRights: How the Indian Constitution protects indigenous tribes

The main reason why these scheduled areas are specified in Constitution is to protect them from alienation of their lands and natural resources

India is home to the largest population of tribal people in the world. With nearly 104 million people according to the 2011 census, tribals constitute to be 8.6 per cent of the country’s total population. Tribals live in concentrations like those along the Himalayas stretching till the Northeast or those in the highlands and plains of central and southern regions.

Be it any part of the country, one of the things that draw similarity is the trait that they live in homogeny, isolated from the other non-tribal people around them.

India strives to preserve their way of life without compromising development. However, the balance has often been compromised resulting in tensions between tribal and non-tribal communities.

There is a difference over how north-eastern and peninsular tribes are treated as per the Indian law. The arrangement has been written in the Constitution’s Fifth Schedule for tribes in peninsular India, and the Sixth Schedule for the northeastern tribes.

As per the Constitution, there are separate laws for schedule areas, ie the areas which are treated differently in the sense that the entire administrative machinery is not extended to these areas. Also, more than the states, the Central Government holds more responsibility for such areas. These scheduled areas can be established under Article 244 and 5th Schedule of the Constitution in any state except Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram.

The main reason why these scheduled areas are specified is to protect them from the alienation of their lands and natural resources. One of the reasons can also be the disparity in economic standard of the people.

The report of administration in these areas need to be submitted to the Governor is concerned. The governors thereby report annually to the President or whenever sought. Tribal Advisory Councils formed in every state also work for the welfare of tribals. The suggestions of the council are forwarded to the governor to take appropriate action.

Along with these, Parliament also formed the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (or PESA) exclusively for these areas. As per PESA, states need to transfer certain powers to local governments elected by the communities.

Its main aim was to have the participation of the tribal communities however, that objective is still to be achieved. In fact, violation of tribal interests has often resulted in them asserting their rights violently.