Mocking Adivasi Concerns

There is a new "plan" for the scheduled tribes, but the adivasis themselves will have no say.

Alienation from the forest and its resources, alienation from cultivable land and alienation from the State underlie the anger of the adivasis in India’s heartland. This is not a new or startling observation. Adivasi mass organisations, the more sensitive administrators, political organisations with their ears to the ground and scholars who have studied India’s autochthonous peoples have been saying this for decades. Why, the Indian state itself has enacted laws to give back to the adivasis a measure of control over their lives and livelihoods. The Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (PESA) and the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (more commonly known as the Forest Rights Act) are two pieces of legislation that were explicitly drafted over the past 15 years to lessen adivasi alienation. As recently as 24 July 2010 Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said at the National Development Council about the concerns of the adivasis, “First, we must recognise that good governance alone gives people a sense of participation and empowerment. In this context, effective implementation of the Forest Rights Act and… PESA are of critical importance. Failure to implement these laws in letter and spirit reduces the credibility of our commitment to bring development to these neglected areas.”

Yet, even as it pays lip service to empower members of the scheduled tribes (ST) the central government is joining hands with the state governments to concentrate more powers in the hands of the district administration and is leaving untouched the many sources of adivasi disaffection. A good example is the “Integrated Action Plan” and institutional arrangements for its implementation that the union cabinet approved recently for 60 ST and backward districts.

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