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ST area case under scanner

New Delhi, Feb. 16: The Supreme Court will now examine a plea to keep out non-tribal people from the scheduled tribe (ST) areas as demarcated under Schedule V of the Constitution.

The plea was originally made by the Adivasis for Social and Human Rights Action, a registered society, through a PIL filed in Orissa High Court. But, it was rejected. The society has now appealed to the top court against the high court’s decision.

The two-judge bench of Justice Dalveer Bhandari and Justice Dipak Misra admitted the appeal on Tuesday.

“The issue involves important constitutional issues,” Justice Bhandari said, issuing notices to the Union government, the law ministry, the Election Commission and the Odisha government.

These parties will now have to present their views on the issue before the court for and against the high court judgment of July 9, 2010.

The appeal, filed on behalf of the society, has urged the top court to decide whether non-tribal people could settle down and own property in scheduled areas in view of its special status under the Constitution. The Sundergarh-based society had initially moved the high court through its secretary, Celestine Xaxa, for relief. But, the court had rejected this plea as “mischievous and misconceived”.

In its appeal, the society claimed that the Schedule V — demarcating such areas in states such as Odisha, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar — was meant to be an exception to the right guaranteed to all citizens to reside and settle down in any part of India.

By implication, the petition also claimed that no person, except those belonging to the scheduled tribe category, had the right to vote in any constituency in a scheduled area. The petition urged the apex court to declare that these areas were exclusively earmarked for the tribal people and only they had the exclusive right to reside and permanently settle down there.

The petition also claimed that the Odisha governor had not extended the application of either the Representation of the People Act or the Delimitation Act, 2002, to the scheduled areas of Sundergarh district.

By implication, these areas would not be covered by the Delimitation Act.

The petition pointed out that extending the Delimitation Act to the scheduled areas had the effect of transforming a predominantly ST area into an SC Assembly seat.

In this context, it gave the example of the Raghunathpalli ST seat, which after the delimitation exercise had become an SC seat, despite the ST population being double that of the SC population, the petition claimed. The ST population stood at 65,025 whereas the SC population was 29,467, the petition stated.

Opposing the plea before the high court, the state and the Union government had claimed that these areas were being governed through several tribal-friendly laws.

The governor had in exercise of his administrative powers over such scheduled areas had promulgated the Orissa Scheduled Areas Transfer of Immovable Property (by STs) Regulation, 1956, and the Orissa (Scheduled Areas) Debt Relief Regulation, 1967, to provide relief from debts to tribal people in the areas, they claimed, denying allegations of abdicating their role in governing these areas.