The Telegraph
Saturday , June 28 , 2014
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Criteria change for ST list up for cabinet nod

New Delhi, June 26: A set of changed criteria for the inclusion of communities in the Scheduled Tribes’ list is set to reach the Union cabinet for approval.

A task force in the ministry of tribal affairs on scheduling of tribes in May recommended a change in criteria for the inclusion of new communities.

The changed criteria may allow communities like the 36 tea tribes in Assam, besides five other communities to be included in the list of Scheduled Tribes.

According to sources in the ministry of home affairs, the onus of decisions on inclusion of new communities will now lie on the ministry of tribal affairs instead of the earlier emphasis on views of the Registrar General of India, which is under the MHA.

“The ministries are submitting their comments on the cabinet note,” said a tribal affairs ministry source.

The matter is now with the ministry of home affairs for approval. The fate of Moran, Muttock, Koch Rajbongshis, Sooteas, Tai Ahoms and 36 tea tribes that have been demanding ST status will be affected by the new criteria.

“The cabinet may then have its own view,” said a ministry of home affairs source.

Inclusion of the communities in the Scheduled Tribe list figured in a recent presentation before home minister Rajnath Singh.

Officials said a decision on the matter is pending.

In Assam, the six communities have been demanding ST status in a prolonged political battle. The Koch Rajbongshi students are negotiating with the Centre while tea tri-bes have even seen insurgency to press for such recognition.

Parliamentary approval to new tribes could mean the change in status of no less than 80 Assembly constituencies in Assam, sources said.

The note has also been circulated to the ministries of social justice and empowerment, culture and department of expenditure in the finance ministry, sources said.

Following the comments, the cabinet will clear the changed criteria and pave the way for the inclusion of these communities. The inclusion will require parliamentary approval.

The current criteria for scheduling of communities as Scheduled Tribes include five parameters.

Indications of primitive traits, distinctive culture, shyness of contact with the community at large, geographical isolation and backwardness of communities are the pre-requisites for them to be classified as Scheduled Tribes.

New criteria suggested by the task force are more comprehensive and prepare the grounds for inclusion of at least some of the six communities in Assam.

Socio-economic, including educational, backwardness vis-ŕ-vis rest of the population of the state is one requisite for a community to be recognised as a Scheduled Tribe.

The criterion of “historical geographic location, which may or may not exist today” may augur well for the tea tribes of Assam who migrated as labourers from areas that are now Odisha and Jharkhand centuries ago.

Other new norms include consideration of autonomous religious practices where the priests or ojas are from the community; distinct language or dialect; presence of a core culture relating to life-style, marriage, songs, dances, paintings and folklore; and, endogamy or marital relationship primarily with other Scheduled Tribes.

“The criteria has to be looked at from a holistic perspective rather than as isolated criterion,” the task force report states.

When a proposal is received from a state government, it will be circulated to four agencies.

The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST), Registrar General of India (RGI), and Anthropological Survey of India (ASI) will be required to submit their opinion in six months of the proposal, if the recommendations of the task force are cleared.

Last year, the Assam government conducted studies on these communities and submitted a proposal for their inclusion as ST. However, the norms for inclusion did not allow them to be included.

The task force headed by ministry of tribal affairs secretary Hrusikesh Panda included members from the RGI, National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, ministries of tribal affairs and social justice and empowerment.