State of denotified tribes

Source: By Shyamlal Yadav: The Indian Express

A standing committee of Parliament, tabled last week, has criticised the functioning of the development programme for denotified, nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes.

These are communities who are the most vulnerable and deprived. Denotified tribes (DNTs) are communities that were ‘notified’ as being ‘born criminal’ during the British regime under a series of laws starting with the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871. Nomadic and semi-nomadic communities are defined as those who move from one place to another rather than living at one place all the time.

A National Commission for De-notified, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic Tribes (NCDNT) was constituted in 2006 by the then government. It was headed by Balkrishna Sidram Renke and submitted its report in June 2008, in which it said, “It is an irony that these tribes somehow escaped the attention of our Constitution makers and thus got deprived of the Constitutional support unlike Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.”

The Renke commission estimated their population at around 10.74 crore based on Census 2001. A new Commission constituted in February 2014 to prepare a state-wise list, which submitted its report on 8 January 2018, identified 1,262 communities as de-notified, nomadic and semi-nomadic.

While a number of these tribes are categorised under SC, ST and OBC, many are not: The standing committee report in Parliament has cited a statement by the Secretary, Department of Social Justice and Empowerment, that 269 DNT communities are not covered under any reserved categories.

These communities are frequently left out because they are less visible and difficult to reach.

What is the standing committee report about?

The Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment, headed by BJP Lok Sabha MP Rama Devi, tabled its 31st report in Parliament in first week of April 2022. The report said the “Committee are constrained to note that the Scheme for economic empowerment of DNT communities formulated to provide coaching, health insurance, facilitate livelihood and financial assistance for construction of homes for the members of DNT, with total outlays of Rs 200 crore for the period of five years from 2021-22 to 2025-26 and the Department could not spend even a single rupee in 2021-22 and the budgetary allocation has been reduced to Rs 28 crore for 2022-23 against the budgetary allocation of Rs 50 crore for 2021-22. The Committee are dismayed that the Department has already delayed in formulation of the Scheme for welfare of Denotified, Nomadic and Semi Nomadic communities.

About the functioning of the Development and Welfare Board for De-notified, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic Communities (DWBDNC), the standing committee said: “At present 269 such Denotified, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic communities are specified and a survey is now in under process to place these castes in SC, ST and BC categories. The Committee are surprised to find that the Department has not been able to take any decision till date hence they would like the Department to take necessary action in this regard so that these castes are placed either under SCs, STs or BCs and avail benefits.”

What is DWBDNC, and what is its role?

The commission report submitted in 2018 had recommended the setting of up a permanent commission for these communities. But since most DNTs are covered under SC, ST or OBC, the government felt setting up a permanent commission, which would deal with redress of grievances, would be in conflict with the mandate of existing commissions for SCs (National Commission for Scheduled Castes), STs (National Commission for Scheduled Tribes) and OBCs (National Commission for Backward Classes). The government therefore set up the DWBDNCs under the Societies Registration Act, 1860 under the aegis of Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment for the purpose of implementing welfare programmes.

The DWBDNC was constituted on 21 February 2019 under the chairmanship of Bhiku Ramji Idate. Also, a committee has been set up by the NITI Aayog to complete the process of identification of the de-notified, nomadic and semi-nomadic communities (DNCs). Ethnographic studies of DNCs are being conducted by the Anthropological Survey of India, with a budget of Rs 2.26 crore sanctioned. On 30 March 2022 the DoPT issued an advertisement for the recruitment of consultants in the DWBDNC.

What is the history of deprivation faced by these communities?

This has a long history, first during colonial rule, and then in independent India. The Renke Commission said this is partly because these communities are largely politically ‘quiet’ — they do not place their demands concretely before the government for they lack vocal leadership and also lack the patronage of a national leader.

Many commissions and committees constituted since Independence have referred to the problems of these communities. These include the Criminal Tribes Inquiry Committee, 1947 constituted in the United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh), Ananthasayanam Ayyangar Committee in 1949 (it was based on the report of this committee the Criminal Tribes Act was repealed), and Kaka Kalelkar Commission (also called first OBC Commission) constituted in 1953. In 1965, an Advisory Committee constituted for revision of the SC and ST list under the chairmanship of B N Lokur referred to denotified tribes. The B P Mandal Commission constituted in 1980 also made some recommendations on the issue.

The National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution under the chairmanship of Justice M N Venkatachaliah, said in its 2002 report that: “The denotified tribes/communities have been wrongly stigmatized as crime prone and subjected to high handed treatment as well as exploitation by the representatives of law and order as well as by the general society.”