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The state of India’s Scheduled Areas

Why is it in the news?

  • While the constitutional provisions provide a framework for safeguarding the rights and welfare of India’s ST communities, challenges in implementation and inclusivity persist.

About Scheduled Areas and ST Communities

Scheduled Areas

  • Scheduled areas are such areas inhabited by the tribes specified as ‘Scheduled tribes‘ in states and union territories other than Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Mizoram.
  • The power to declare any area as a ‘Scheduled Area’ is bestowed on the President of India and the parliament is authorized to legislation.

Significance of ST Communities

  • ST communities constitute a significant portion of India’s population, at 8.6%.
  • Their distribution across 26 States and six Union Territories underscores their diversity and widespread presence.

Constitutional Framework

  • Article 244 plays a pivotal role in governing ST areas, with distinctions between Fifth and Sixth Schedules for different states.
  • Article 244(1) applies the Fifth Schedule to Scheduled Areas in states other than Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Mizoram, while Article 244(2) applies the Sixth Schedule to these states.
  • The constitutional provisions were established to safeguard the rights and welfare of ST communities.

Scheduled Areas’ Limited Coverage

  • Scheduled Areas cover 11.3% of India’s land area and are notified in 10 states: Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Himachal Pradesh. Kerala has a proposal awaiting approval.
  • Scheduled Areas cover a considerable land area but are still not inclusive enough.
  • Many villages with ST populations remain excluded from these provisions, leaving a significant portion of STs without the benefits and protections under Article 244.
  • Despite demands from Adivasi organizations, many villages with ST populations are excluded from Scheduled Areas, leaving 59% of India’s STs without the rights and benefits of Article 244.
  • The Bhuria Committee, 1995, recommended extending panchayat raj to Scheduled Areas, but this has not been implemented.

Governance Challenges

  • The governance structures and mechanisms outlined in the constitution, such as Tribal Advisory Councils, have often remained inactive.
  • The power vested in Governors to repeal or amend laws has seen limited application, with notable exceptions in Maharashtra.

Empowerment through PESA

  • The enactment of the Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) in 1996 marked a turning point, giving more authority to Gram Sabhas.
  • PESA empowers local communities, particularly Gram Sabhas, to govern their areas directly, aligning with the principles of decentralization and self-governance.

Identification and demarcation Challenges

  • The criteria for identifying Scheduled Areas, including tribal population percentages, compactness, and economic conditions, remain open to interpretation.
  • The lack of specific guidelines for demarcating traditional boundaries has been a hurdle in implementing laws like the Forest Rights Act (FRA)

Recommendations for Inclusivity

  • Extending Scheduled Areas to habitations with ST majorities, regardless of contiguity, would help bring more ST communities under the protective ambit of Article 244.
  • Clear demarcation of traditional boundaries, especially in forest areas, is essential to ensure the rights of STs under laws like FRA.
  • Aligning the geographical limits of administrative units with Scheduled Areas can enhance governance effectiveness.

Way Forward

  • Empowering local communities through acts like PESA and addressing the issues related to identification and demarcation are crucial steps in ensuring the intended benefits reach all ST populations across the country.

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