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Flood of Schemes: Revisiting The Adivasi Schemes on World Indigenous Day

By Dr. Abhilash Thadathil

23 September, 2015

On August 9, 2015, India celebrated yet another World Indigenous Day without much rabble-rousing public events followed by a grandiloquent ministerial speech on a ‘successful' tribal welfare programme and a compulsory tribal dance only to enthrall the chief guests. Declaring a new tribal welfare scheme is always a major highlight of such events. Ideally, one should not be doubtful about the socio-economic credentials of a democratically elected government and its discretion of declaring schemes and programmes for the welfare of its marginalised communities.

But here, instead of properly implementing and monitoring the vast array of legislations and schemes that are currently in place for adivasi welfare, state governments are eager to announce fresh ones on every 9th August since the UN declaration of the World Indigenous Day on 9, August, 2007. This year, Jharkhand government has announced a new tribal rural road scheme from August 15 to connect all tribal dominated villages with their respective district headquarter and also assured to make tribal development council functional by September,2015.

Likewise, in 2012, Kerala government set up a ministerial sub-committee on the same day to address woes of unwed tribal mothers in the state. Later, apart from few fact-probing endeavours by the State Human Right Commission (SHRC) on the issue, very little is heard about the programme and its outcome.

This is only the tip of an iceberg in terms of hundreds of derailed inclusionary programmes aimed at the welfare of the tribals in the state. A percentage calculation of the schemes and programmes for the welfare of tribal communities in other states, barring few exceptions, will prove the failure and fallacy of these programmes in addressing and positively altering their destitute lives.

Presently, in many states, myriad of tribal schemes are turned out to be a revenue stream that has been designed to be milked by the political class and bureaucracy. Status of politicians-owned Ashram Schools in Maharashtra and the largely mismanaged Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY) in tribal areas, poorly managed pre-metric tribal hostels in Kerala and the list goes on.

The JSY is hardily reached to the adivasis even in states like Kerala where government infrastructure and social consciousness are relatively developed. A significant section of the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal groups (PVTG) in the country are still not aware of any schemes and welfare programmes meant for their development. The report on the status of tribal communities in India,2014 indicates the anomalies in the process of scheduling such as instances of increasing the communities within the Scheduled Tribes list in the state without simultaneously reserving electoral constituencies for STs. It also indicate that some tribes classified under the PVTGs have not yet been notified as Scheduled Tribes.

Precisely, the idea of ‘scheme-oriented adivasi development’ effectively undermines their right for self-determination and exacerbating the risk of endangering or denying the proper implementation of the key legislations like Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (PESA), and the Forest Right Act , 2006, which has the potential to positively alter their current socio-economic backwardness.

Moreover, contrary to its flamboyance, a scheme is always connected to the vigor and interest of the incumbent as well as successive regimes and it is well-known that the governments give less importance to the schemes initiated by its predecessor. This has become a recipe of asymmetrical dependency of adivasis to the state.

Asymmetrical dependency

Ironically, PESA and FRA came into the adivasi world at a time when the country was on the threshold of an economic transformation.

Influx of global finance capital and its per-conditions were intended to extract the remaining natural resources—that lying at the confluence of state's interest and tribal existence—under the pretext of development not only abruptly ended their hope to get a fare deal in the process but also subjected them to extreme violence, persecution and forced displacements. Government’s silence over clearly defining tribals property has created a uniquely perverse environment which finally alienated them from their ancestral land. The colonial notion of property is the one that historically been used against the adivasis in India.

As John Locke said, in order to protect a property interest, one has to use the land intensively, so, unless that land is cordoned off and used intensively such as the way the European settler farmer would do, it is no one’s land and the land would be acquired for productive use.

The idea conceive the property as an enemy for tribals because the concept provided a justification for taking their land under this view that they were not using the land productively and presumably not having any property interest in it.

The dismal performance of the PESA in its respective states needs to be evaluated in this context. Many states are still reluctant to redesign and enforce its respective Laws and Acts in line with the PESA. Large section of the political class still perceive the notion that this as a succession from State and they do not have a mindset to understand it as a nuanced institution that is responsive to the ability and desire of the tribals to maintain and control of their own destiniesfurther prevented the tribals coming late to the modern world with their traditional institutions and collective past, and hoping to use its evidently successful socio-economic ideas and methods to their advantage.

Presently, FRA is also facing the fate of PESA. Though it has produced few commendable examples from the Maoist-affected regions like Mendha Lekha in Gadchiroli, Maharashtra and Kandhamal in Odisha, the tribal village Panchayats often force to go head to head with forest department and low enforcement agencies for getting clearance for each and every aspects of the Act.

What could be the reason for the slow progress of FRA in other part of the country ? Apart from a tiresome process of finding genuine beneficiaries among the claimants, there are other factors. First, states are reluctant to give up their rights over forest and minor forest products (MFP),especially bamboo, which is traditionally being extracted by Indian multinational companies in collusion with echelons in government and forest department on a throwaway contract prices. Second, large number of claims rejection. In states like Maharashtra the three-tier screening committee--village, sub-divisional and district--are still struggling to iron out the fake claims. As of February 28, 2015, in total, only 39.5 per cent of the claims have been settled in the country.

As per the Tribal ministry’s monthly review on February 2015, no community rights have been issued in Chhattisgarh. The review also indicates the rejection of claims in Maoism-affected districts is high.

Two issues are vital here, firstly, the ongoing information blackout on adivasi livelihood in the country—especially from the resource rich region—which gives virtual impunity to the stakeholders who are involved with the tribal development. Secondly, the governments are not responding to the tribal catastrophe with enough vigour. This is a perilous one.

Information blackout

Activists and human rights campaigners have already pointed out the fact that the lack of information about the role of state and its adversaries in the tribal heartland. Similarly, infrastructure needed for tribals to articulate their rights do not exist, and if any, an array of forces is actively undermining their attempts to do so.

Meanwhile, human right campaigners are under pressure from the government to leave economic and social concerns to humanitarian and philanthropy. Boundaries of activism have been demarcated by the state and activists were advised to exercise with government-friendly terminologies like 'capacity building', 'women empowerment' and 'sustainable development'.

Diverting or lapsing the Tribal Sub-plan (TSP) funds is a regular practice among most of the state governments. Sometimes, funds meant for tribal welfare are often funneled to the construction of highways and infrastructure that primarily satisfy the needs of para-military forces, mining companies and private crusher units.

Without basic information flows and a clear stand on tribal land use pattern and rights, it is difficult to even imagine a new advocacy or planning for resolving the current socio-economic dilemmas related to this community.

This perilous scenario also proved it hard to negotiate democracy and human rights in India’s recourse rich tribal region. As Amartya Sen said, ‘in a terrible history of famines in the world, no substantial famine has ever occurred in any independent and democratic country with a relatively free press.’ This may be a debatable point because, logically, democracy and press freedom are not always prophylactics. Therefore, one can argue that due to the manufactured asymmetrical relations that exist in India's tribal world currently, continued inequality is the likely outcome and, therefore, emancipation is considered unreachable.

Nevertheless, Sen's words makes some sense in contemporary India. In comparison with other developing nations, India, at least, has an enlightened civic and political sense and would play a decisive role in defending the socio-economic rights of its indigenous population if it is constantly bombarded with information on tribal destitute. The civil society’s and rights groups advocacy has been visible in the issues such as Niyamgiri, POSCO, Soni Sori and Plachimada and vehemently oppose the killing of villagers in Singaram and of SPOs in Bijapur district.

In all these cases the information beyond the government narratives united the civil society in solidarity with adivasi cause.

Therefore, declaring a new scheme on World Indigenous Day without comprehending the web of myriad issues evolve in and around the contemporary adivasi livelihood would be counterproductive and dysfunctional.

Dr. Abhilash Thadathil, Assistant Professor, Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics. Email: abhilashthadathil@gmail.com


Ministry of Tribal Affairs (2014), Status report on implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 [for the period ending 31st May, 2014], at :


Sen, Amartya (1999) ”Democracy as a Universal Value” Journal of Democracy, Vol,10.3, pp:3-17.

Xaxa, Virginius, et.al (20014), Report of the high level committee on socio-economic, health and educational status of tribal communities of India: Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India,at :

tttp://www.indiaenvironmentportal.org.in/files/file/Tribal%20Committee%20Report,%20May-June%202014.pdf . viewed on July 10,2015.


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